Windham Millwork Finds Lean Techniques Make Difference
WINDHAM, ME - As Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Windham Millwork owner Bruce Pulkkinen was very familiar with the MEP program and the many services it offered to manufacturers in Maine. He had often heard one company official or another sing the praises of the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership. He knew the program had merit and was consistently utilized throughout Maine by companies of all sizes and shapes.
"I certainly was very familiar with the MEP program," Pulkkinen explained, "but until I utilized the MEP's services inside my own company I really did not have a good concept of how it can help transform a company from a good manufacturer to a world-class manufacturer.
"In fact," Pulkkinen added, "Windham Millwork is now in its third project with the Maine MEP and we intend to continue to work with them as we continue our quest to become a world-class manufacturer."
To that end, Windham Millwork is now in the process of initiating Lean Manufacturing Techniques throughout the plant. "The results have already been rewarding," Pulkkinen said. "It's amazing how the lean program has eliminated waste and freed up space which can be utilized for new product lines."
Maine MEP introduced the company to introductory lean principles through Time Wise 101 followed by training for the internal lean team in value stream mapping and kaizen implementation. Program managers then led the cabinet team through an intensive kaizen process to dramatically improve the plant layout and material handling, resulting in increased capacity without additional manpower costs.
The company is now poised to take on additional work with its existing workforce and manufacturing facility. Maine MEP is now beginning the same work with the custom side of the company and has been working continually to improve the process from the bid process, through design and engineering to the production floor.
Pulkkinen said it has worked and the results may best be found in the numbers. "Product throughput time has been reduced from 10 days to 4 days," he said, "while labor per cabinet has been reduced by at least 20 percent."
For Windham Millwork, that results in labor cost savings in excess of $140,000 per year in the cabinet making department alone, while improvements in the bid-to-design process has meant a reduction in the process of at least 33 percent, which has reduced re-entering errors and saving $30,000 a year.
"Those are certainly impressive figures," said Rod Rodrigue, executive director of the Maine MEP, "but they are by no means unique. Our project managers are trained to implement Lean Manufacturing techniques, conduct Value Stream Mapping and work with manufacturers to make procedural changes that really make a difference."
That is important, Rodrigue said, because busy companies often find it difficult to take the time to look at how they might improve factory layouts, manufacturing procedures or shipping protocols.
"It often takes another of set of eyes to point out what might seem obvious after the fact," Rodrigue said. "That is exactly what we provide at the Maine MEP and why our track record has been so successful over the past several years."
Rodrigue will get no argument from Bruce Pulkkinen. "The project managers at the Maine MEP got everyone here thinking about what they do and how it applies to everyone else in the department," he said. "The end result is things run more smoothly and efficiently because there is less guesswork in what is to be done and what is being done.
"That leads to improved morale," he added, "because the result is the employees have neater and cleaner environments in which to work and they experience less anxiety about what is expected of them."
That is especially important for Windham Millwork, a company with 65 employees that manufacture custom cabinetry for institutions such as hospitals, municipal offices, private colleges and banks. The company also manufactures counter tops and produces fancy wood paneling.
"We make almost everything to order," Pulkkinen said, "so scheduling has always been a major consideration for us. That's why our first 'lean' project with the Maine MEP centered on our custom department and production line."
Known for three generations as a 'quality shop,' Windham Millwork has worked hard to keep that reputation and its customers over the years. "People who like to do business with us want to remain with us," Pulkkinen said. "That means we have to deliver the goods on time, take care of problems when they arise and treat our customers well.
"We are not the least expensive shop around," he added, "but our customers know we won't sacrifice quality just to save a few dollars."
In fact, while cabinets cost less today than they did 20 years ago, Pulkkinen said technology and working 'smarter' have made the difference, not sacrificing quality or workmanship.
"The 'lean' process introduced by the Maine MEP has made us even more quality conscious," he said. "We do a lot more inspection of our own work and we are looking to save dollars in the production process without reducing employment. In fact our goal from the beginning was to free up space to allow us to increase employment and sales volume."
Windham Millwork has been able to do just that. In addition, the company has been able to move its entire counter top department into a space resulting from an improved factory layout. "This has allowed us to grow by adding additional custom craftsmen into the vacated counter space," Pulkkinen said. "We now have a backlog in place and anticipate growing the company by 30 percent this year. That would not have been possible without utilizing our plant more efficiently.
"None of that would have been possible without the help of the Maine MEP," he added.
"In fact, we see our relationship with Maine MEP as a partnership that will continue as we knock off one area after another within the company." Pulkkinen said. "And we don't' intend to stop even after we feel we have earned the right to call our company 'world class.'"
The Maine MEP is an affiliate of the NIST under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The national MEP is a network of manufacturing extension centers that provide business and technical assistance to smaller manufacturers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Through MEP, manufacturers have access to more than 2000 manufacturing and business "coaches" whose job is to help firms make changes that lead to greater productivity, increased profits, and enhanced global competitiveness. For more information on the Maine MEP program call 207-623-0680.