MarCraft, Inc. is a 30-year-old, family-owned, manufacturer of built-to-order, cultured stone and marble bathroom fixtures. Located in Douglas, Ga., it provides two-week delivery of special order vanity tops anywhere in the nation through the top home improvement retailers in the country. It also supplies tubs, showers and vanity tops to national condominium and hotel developers.
During 2004, the owners of MarCraft, Inc. began a process of taking apart the company’s physical and management organization. It started with a typical management pyramid involving department heads responsible for sales, order processing, accounting, production, engineering, quality control, information technology and material management in one facility.
By 2006, it had evolved into a flat organization with separate facilities for four divisions, which were self-directed teams led by one team leader and focused on specific customers. The teams were cross-trained to handle all of the above responsibilities and shared in bonuses based on monthly results. All team members were trained in lean concepts.
To maintain continuous improvement, the company called on the Georgia Institute of Technology for assistance. John Stephens, a project manager with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EII), reviewed the potential areas for improvement, using Six Sigma methods. He concentrated on assisting MarCraft with continuous flow manufacturing, a technique used to manufacture components in a cellular environment where everything that is needed to process the part is within easy reach, and no part is allowed to go to the next operation until the previous operation has been completed. His work led to a layout improvement to maximize efficiency where the molds are cleaned and prepared before gel-coat spraying.
“Once the line got flowing, it no longer held up the gel coating process,” Stephens said. “MarCraft is now able to get more through the system.”
Based on the suggestion of Stephens, MarCraft then called on EII Project Manager Paul Todd to implement 5S, a way of organizing and managing the workspace by eliminating waste. Todd first visited MarCraft in August 2006 to review the basic concepts of lean manufacturing, a process management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System and known for reducing wasted time and effort to improve overall customer value.
“The first day we got all the team members of the first business unit together to discuss what we were doing and why. We conducted a brief simulation and talked about what we were trying to accomplish,” Todd recalled. “As part of the team culture at MarCraft, we wanted to get everybody on board before we started changing things. That’s a best practice for improvements.”
Following the initial overview, Todd returned to MarCraft for six additional sessions to implement 5S across all areas of the initial team. 5S refers to five Japanese words: seiri (remove what is not needed and keep what is needed); seiton (place things in such a way that they can be easily reached whenever they are needed); seiso (keep things clean and polished); seiketsu (maintain cleanliness after cleaning); and shitsuke (sustain the improvements over time). In English, the steps become sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.
“We had a rule that if we changed something that made it harder to do the job, we need to stop and back up. Any changes we made should help the people do their jobs better in terms of safety and productivity,” Todd said. “With the team members’ help, we decided where tools needed to be stored. We also did a lot cleaning – the nature of this process is that things will get dirty, so we had to implement a cleaning schedule. The fifth S – sustain – examined management policies.”
Management at MarCraft faced a special challenge when it decided to implement 5S. As a result of grinding and pouring cultured marble to produce vanity tops for the two largest home improvement retailers in the United States, dust and resin spills are an inevitable part of the daily work environment.
“We had to come to an understanding of what it meant to have this place clean, to have a reasonable level of cleanliness and order,” noted L.J. Chambers, MarCraft vice president. “Although we have state-of-the-art dust collection system and team member awareness, it is still hard to keep things clean and orderly.”
Other changes that were made included purchasing and labeling pegboards to store tools and supplies, developing a daily maintenance checklist, and building specialized worktables in the finishing areas. According to Todd, the tables went through several designs with input from team members, which is a good example of listening, teamwork and experimentation. All of the 5S steps are being applied in the remaining business units.
“One of the results of 5S was to create a bin system to organize splashguards, built for specific vanity tops. It was easy to mix them up or lose them and hold up an important shipment because of one small piece of marble,” noted Kim Voyles, MarCraft vice president. “Now, any team member can pull out the correct splash and complete the shipment. That has eliminated a considerable amount of lost time and recasting costs.”
Other savings include reduced downtime for equipment setup time when changing gel coat colors and a reduction in small tool expense.
“The addition of 5S to the other lean practices has allowed one-week delivery to a growing number of markets, the key to us retaining our team’s sales volume during the recent downturn in the housing industry,” Voyles said. “In one market, we were able to secure a lot of business from a significant competitor because of it.”
Voyles added that MarCraft intends to continue the application of lean and 5S concepts and to request Georgia Tech’s help in maintaining an environment of continuous improvement.
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright