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December 28, 2004

For more information please contact:
Muriel Mosher
Tel: 207-623-0680

Portland Company Fired Up Over Lean Techniques

PORTLAND, ME - Jøtul may be the largest manufacturer of cast-iron wood and gas stoves, inserts and fireplaces in the world today, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t always room for improvement.

Just ask Shawn Malloy, vice president of engineering and manufacturing for the Portland-based Jøtul, North America.

“Established in 1980, Jøtul has had about 60 employees working in its Portland facility since it went from pure distribution to manufacturing assembly in 1999,” Malloy said. “Of that number, 16 employees are now involved in assembling, painting and shipping gas stoves and fireplaces and wood inserts to numerous specialty hearth dealers and distributors across the United States and Canada.” The remaining Portland employees are involved in research and development, finance, administration, distribution and sales.

Jøtul’s worldwide reputation for quality workmanship has certainly made the Portland facility a huge success, and more than 30,000 stoves, inserts and fireplaces are shipped each year from that location.

“Business has increased steadily for the past several years,” Malloy said, “and we have worked hard to stay ahead of the demand by constantly improving our production process while efficiently utilizing current personnel.”

Proper space utilization, quality and on-time delivery have also been high on the Portland company’s list of concerns. “We emphasize changes to the process that will reduce the needed production area space and warehouse storage space while utilizing standardized production processes, reducing handling of production components and increasing flexibility in meeting customers’ demands,” Malloy said.

In order to address those concerns, Jøtul’s management decided to become officially involved in Lean Manufacturing Techniques earlier this year. “We have always believed in Lean Techniques,” Malloy said, “but we wanted to initiate a formal Lean implementation program.”

That’s when the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Maine MEP) got involved.

“Jøtul has been a wonderful company to work with,” said Rod Rodrigue, president of the Maine MEP. “The Portland company is successful on every level, yet its management realizes it must be open to new ideas and techniques that will ensure the company’s success will continue in the future.

“It’s situations such as the one presented by Jøtul that keep us moving forward and continually expanding our capabilities to assist small- and medium-sized companies throughout Maine,” Rodrigue added.

With the assistance of the Maine MEP, Jøtul, N.A., engaged in a lean implementation program centered on education and training projects that led to continuous improvement methods throughout the production area. The MEP project managers introduced Lean Training concepts to facility personnel that led to a desire to seek continuous improvement in the gas stove production process while, at the same time, improving quality, on-time delivery, and space requirements.

Second, the company standardized work processes so employees can be utilized throughout the production process, and ultimately used the education, training, and implementation as a basis for applying continuous improvement concepts throughout other areas at Jøtul, N.A., and also to the Norwegian operations.

“The results have been amazing,” said Malloy. “We have reduced our manufacturing space from approximately 21,000 square feet to about 7,500 square feet. This has freed up enough space that we are now planning on moving two buildings to one building for both manufacturing and warehousing.”

When that move is completed, the Portland company will save approximately $285,000 a year.

At the same time, Jøtul has negotiated with some of its suppliers to more efficiently send and package materials to the facility, thus reducing non-value-added time spent by employees sorting through materials for use in the assembling process.

“We have also increased inventory turnover at our warehouse by between two and three times,” Malloy said. “This means we have less money tied up in the warehouse at any one time and helps minimize the possibility that we will be stuck with obsolete stoves in the future.”

Finally, Jøtul's Portland facility has seen an increase in sales per employee, which is increasing the margin on each stove sold and enabling the company to minimize any increase in stove prices.

“This should increase our market share and lead to an increase in the number of employees needed at Jøtul in the coming years,” Malloy said.

Malloy admits he’s not through with the Maine MEP quite yet. “I’m really happy with the work they did for us and we plan to do quite a bit more programs with the MEP in the future.

“I would certainly recommend the Maine MEP to any company looking to improve and increase production while maximizing the efforts on employees,” Malloy said.

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 1-800-637-4634.