Jump-starting Growth in Glennville

Rotary Corporation, headquartered in Glennville, Ga., literally began from a car trunk when J.D. Nelson began selling replacement parts to auto parts stores and lawnmower dealers in 1956. By 1971, the company’s volume had increased to the point where Rotary began considering manufacturing its own lawnmower blades. To make an informed decision, it enlisted experts at Georgia Tech to conduct a feasibility study.

“They came back to us and suggested that we begin manufacturing lawnmower blades, so we found a company for sale in Toledo, Ohio, bought it, moved it down here and started making lawnmower blades,” recalled Ed Nelson, Rotary’s president. “I don’t know where we would be today if we hadn’t done that, because when we started manufacturing our business really started growing.”

Today, Rotary employs 450 people and delivers parts to 20,000 customers in all 50 states and more than 50 countries throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Canada, Australia and Africa.

“When my father bought the business from my great-uncle in ’66, we had seven employees and were selling $250,000 a year, and now we sell that before lunch on a good day,” Nelson said. “Last year we marked two milestones – our fiftieth year in business and our 150 millionth lawnmower blade.”

To support that growth over the years, Nelson continued to turn to Georgia Tech for assistance and guidance. Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute provides comprehensive services to improve the competitiveness of Georgia’s business and industry, including technical and engineering assistance, continuing education courses, facilitation of networks and connecting companies to Georgia Tech resources.

Since the initial feasibility study on lawnmower blade manufacturing, Rotary has tapped into nearly every service offered by the Enterprise Innovation Institute. In the mid-‘70s, Georgia Tech conducted another study to determine the best steel for blade manufacturing. Energy and environmental specialists have performed air sampling, noise monitoring, general safety audits and environmental audits, and assisted the company on better managing its energy costs.

Rotary has also thoroughly utilized Georgia Tech’s services in lean manufacturing, a process management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System and known for reducing wasted time and effort. Alan Barfoot, a lean specialist and central Georgia region manager with the Enterprise Innovation Institute, led Rotary staff in a lean overview, helping participants learn the principles of lean manufacturing and how to apply them.

During a series of simulations, they applied lean concepts such as standardized work, visual signals, batch-size reduction and pull systems, among others. They experienced how lean improves quality, reduces cycle time, improves delivery performance and reduces work-in-process. The team also developed value stream maps – diagrams used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer – to determine Rotary’s current and future states. Nelson estimates that Rotary’s available warehouse space increased by 20 percent as a result of these projects.

“When Georgia Tech has a long-term relationship with a client like Rotary, there is better synergy between us and the company,” noted Barfoot. “We are much more familiar with the business and are able to be a more valuable set of outside eyes to provide feedback.”

In 2007, the Enterprise Innovation Institute – through the U.S. Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) – began offering a program to help Georgia companies develop new strategies for growth. “Eureka! Winning Ways®,” an award-winning three-step process that includes idea engineering, success screening and action-plan coaching, was developed by Doug Hall, former master marketing inventor with Procter & Gamble and former host of the ABC television series American Inventor.

Eureka helps companies assess how to best jump-start growth through innovative and creative ideas. Projects, which are led by Georgia Tech experts who have been certified in the Eureka Ranch techniques, examine how companies can establish more effective marketing messages, capture new customers or markets, and develop new products, services or business models. In fall 2007, Rotary was invited to Eureka Ranch, Hall’s headquarters in Newtown, Ohio.

“We took 12 people from Rotary’s management team, sales people and trusted advisors to Eureka Ranch and we did the project from there. Doug Hall and his team were there, so we got to be in that environment,” recalled Bob Wray, a Georgia Tech project manager and Eureka specialist. “We went through the ideation day – a disciplined system for thinking smarter and more creatively about old and new ideas for top-line growth – and then tried to figure out which projects were worth pursuing. We came up with more than 150 ideas.”

Following the idea generation, the group refined and rewrote the top 12 ideas, and then senior management selected four to go into idea testing. That testing took place in the second phase of Eureka, which assesses ideas using Merwyn Research, a software program that evaluates the group’s ideas based on other ideas’ successes. The software generates a score for each idea and, based on that information, the client chooses two ideas on which to focus.

The third phase of Eureka – TrailBlazer – is a 30-day research-intensive coaching process to make a decision on whether to develop the two ideas. If the decision is “yes,” the idea will proceed into a development phase. Over time, the goal is for the company to have a continuous “idea pipeline,” with ideas in different stages of incubation and development.

“We saw a need for improvements on lawnmower blades within the industry, and we’re currently in the process of developing a unique blade,” Nelson noted. “However, that doesn’t happen overnight; it involves a lot of testing. Eureka really got us up and going with that project.”

Another project that was immediately identified by the Eureka process was an information technology project that remedied the problem of Rotary’s computer system being down during back-up. Now, the ordering system is always accessible, a big improvement for Rotary’s European customers in particular.

“The biggest advantage to Eureka is establishing a pipeline of ideas. With Rotary, there may have been 50 pretty good ideas out of those 150 that we identified at the Eureka Ranch. The next step was working through that list, prioritizing and executing,” said Wray. “Doug Hall says that if you’re not unique, you better be cheap. If you don’t have unique lawnmower blades, you’re selling commodities. But, if you have something no one else has, then you can charge a premium for it.”

Nelson says that Rotary has experienced a number of positive impacts as a result of the Eureka project, including $1.5 million in increased sales, $2 million in retained sales that would have otherwise been lost, 50 retained jobs and one job created. He also notes that Rotary avoided $262,000 in unnecessary investments as a result of Georgia Tech’s assistance.

“Eureka really opened our eyes to other ways of doing things, and helped us to take advantage of ideas as fast as we can. We’ve got a lot more ideas now than we had in the past,” Nelson said.

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:

The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office

Enterprise Innovation Institute

Georgia Institute of Technology

75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314

Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Rotary Corporation, headquartered in Glennville, Ga., literally began from a car trunk when J.D. Nelson began selling replacement parts to auto parts stores and lawnmower dealers in 1956. By 1971, the company’s volume had increased to the point where Rotary began considering manufacturing its own lawnmower blades. To make an informed decision, it enlisted experts at Georgia Tech to conduct a feasibility study.

“They came back to us and suggested that we begin manufacturing lawnmower blades, so we found a company for sale in Toledo, Ohio, bought it, moved it down here and started making lawnmower blades,” recalled Ed Nelson, Rotary’s president. “I don’t know where we would be today if we hadn’t done that, because when we started manufacturing our business really started growing.”

Today, Rotary employs 450 people and delivers parts to 20,000 customers in all 50 states and more than 50 countries throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Canada, Australia and Africa.

“When my father bought the business from my great-uncle in ’66, we had seven employees and were selling $250,000 a year, and now we sell that before lunch on a good day,” Nelson said. “Last year we marked two milestones – our fiftieth year in business and our 150 millionth lawnmower blade.”

To support that growth over the years, Nelson continued to turn to Georgia Tech for assistance and guidance. Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute provides comprehensive services to improve the competitiveness of Georgia’s business and industry, including technical and engineering assistance, continuing education courses, facilitation of networks and connecting companies to Georgia Tech resources.

Since the initial feasibility study on lawnmower blade manufacturing, Rotary has tapped into nearly every service offered by the Enterprise Innovation Institute. In the mid-‘70s, Georgia Tech conducted another study to determine the best steel for blade manufacturing. Energy and environmental specialists have performed air sampling, noise monitoring, general safety audits and environmental audits, and assisted the company on better managing its energy costs.

Rotary has also thoroughly utilized Georgia Tech’s services in lean manufacturing, a process management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System and known for reducing wasted time and effort. Alan Barfoot, a lean specialist and central Georgia region manager with the Enterprise Innovation Institute, led Rotary staff in a lean overview, helping participants learn the principles of lean manufacturing and how to apply them.

During a series of simulations, they applied lean concepts such as standardized work, visual signals, batch-size reduction and pull systems, among others. They experienced how lean improves quality, reduces cycle time, improves delivery performance and reduces work-in-process. The team also developed value stream maps – diagrams used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer – to determine Rotary’s current and future states. Nelson estimates that Rotary’s available warehouse space increased by 20 percent as a result of these projects.

“When Georgia Tech has a long-term relationship with a client like Rotary, there is better synergy between us and the company,” noted Barfoot. “We are much more familiar with the business and are able to be a more valuable set of outside eyes to provide feedback.”

In 2007, the Enterprise Innovation Institute – through the U.S. Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) – began offering a program to help Georgia companies develop new strategies for growth. “Eureka! Winning Ways®,” an award-winning three-step process that includes idea engineering, success screening and action-plan coaching, was developed by Doug Hall, former master marketing inventor with Procter & Gamble and former host of the ABC television series American Inventor.

Eureka helps companies assess how to best jump-start growth through innovative and creative ideas. Projects, which are led by Georgia Tech experts who have been certified in the Eureka Ranch techniques, examine how companies can establish more effective marketing messages, capture new customers or markets, and develop new products, services or business models. In fall 2007, Rotary was invited to Eureka Ranch, Hall’s headquarters in Newtown, Ohio.

“We took 12 people from Rotary’s management team, sales people and trusted advisors to Eureka Ranch and we did the project from there. Doug Hall and his team were there, so we got to be in that environment,” recalled Bob Wray, a Georgia Tech project manager and Eureka specialist. “We went through the ideation day – a disciplined system for thinking smarter and more creatively about old and new ideas for top-line growth – and then tried to figure out which projects were worth pursuing. We came up with more than 150 ideas.”

Following the idea generation, the group refined and rewrote the top 12 ideas, and then senior management selected four to go into idea testing. That testing took place in the second phase of Eureka, which assesses ideas using Merwyn Research, a software program that evaluates the group’s ideas based on other ideas’ successes. The software generates a score for each idea and, based on that information, the client chooses two ideas on which to focus.

The third phase of Eureka – TrailBlazer – is a 30-day research-intensive coaching process to make a decision on whether to develop the two ideas. If the decision is “yes,” the idea will proceed into a development phase. Over time, the goal is for the company to have a continuous “idea pipeline,” with ideas in different stages of incubation and development.

“We saw a need for improvements on lawnmower blades within the industry, and we’re currently in the process of developing a unique blade,” Nelson noted. “However, that doesn’t happen overnight; it involves a lot of testing. Eureka really got us up and going with that project.”

Another project that was immediately identified by the Eureka process was an information technology project that remedied the problem of Rotary’s computer system being down during back-up. Now, the ordering system is always accessible, a big improvement for Rotary’s European customers in particular.

“The biggest advantage to Eureka is establishing a pipeline of ideas. With Rotary, there may have been 50 pretty good ideas out of those 150 that we identified at the Eureka Ranch. The next step was working through that list, prioritizing and executing,” said Wray. “Doug Hall says that if you’re not unique, you better be cheap. If you don’t have unique lawnmower blades, you’re selling commodities. But, if you have something no one else has, then you can charge a premium for it.”

Nelson says that Rotary has experienced a number of positive impacts as a result of the Eureka project, including $1.5 million in increased sales, $2 million in retained sales that would have otherwise been lost, 50 retained jobs and one job created. He also notes that Rotary avoided $262,000 in unnecessary investments as a result of Georgia Tech’s assistance.

“Eureka really opened our eyes to other ways of doing things, and helped us to take advantage of ideas as fast as we can. We’ve got a lot more ideas now than we had in the past,” Nelson said.

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:

The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office

Enterprise Innovation Institute

Georgia Institute of Technology

75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 100

Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contacts: Nancy Fullbright (404-894-2214); E-mail: (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@thgirblluf.ycnan) or John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Lean Manufacturing Takes Flight at Vought Aircraft

Merlin Fechner, general manager of Vought Aircraft’s Milledgeville, Ga. facility, describes continuous improvement as a journey in which there is no end. In 2006, the aerospace industry supplier sought assistance from Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute with its lean management principles, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations.

“As part of the continuous improvement journey, it’s good to get outside eyes to come in and look at what we’ve been doing for a really long time,” Fechner said. “The lean specialists at Georgia Tech are seasoned veterans who have been in manufacturing and understand it, and they did a really great job for us.”

Alan Barfoot, the central Georgia region manager for the Enterprise Innovation Institute, along with lean specialists Danny Duggar, Paul Todd and Bob Wray, visited the 610,000-square-foot facility to determine how the company could maximize efficiency. Vought Aircraft employs 550 people in Milledgeville – including 350 highly skilled mechanics – who make parts for aerospace companies such as Boeing, Airbus, Northrop Grumman, Gulfstream and Sikorsky. Last year, Vought’s Milledgeville site business profile was 65 percent commercial and 35 percent military.

Led by the Georgia Tech team, Vought employees learned about lean concepts such as standardized work, visual signals, batch-size reduction and pull systems, among others. They also experienced how lean improves quality, reduces cycle time, improves delivery performance, and reduces work-in-process and inventory.

The team also conducted a week-long kaizen event on the CF6 translating cowl, part of an aircraft’s thrust reverser. Kaizen, or rapid improvement, is a focused activity on a particular process or activity that identifies and quickly removes waste. The team developed value stream maps, which are diagrams used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer.

“CF6 translating cowls are acoustically treated, so they act like a muffler when they’re landing to reduce the noise. That’s a special proprietary process for Vought,” noted Steve Comer, Vought’s industrial engineering manager. “CF6 processes start with fabrication that shapes the honeycomb core. Subsequently, the composite parts are formed in molds, heat laminated, trimmed, inspected, assembled and painted in this factory.”

In late 2007, the Georgia Tech team returned to Vought to analyze product coming into the facility for parts on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. They measured the total area, including new and existing square footage, parts and tool travel. Barfoot assisted with evaluating parts and equipment, creating databases and designing a layout for more than 1,000 different parts and multiple processes.

“They identified a lot of issues that we were able to work on and we implemented needed changes to optimize our production on the program. The teams’ engagement and enthusiasm for improvement on that product was very obvious to our customer,” observed Fechner. “As a result, we’ve now positioned ourselves to pick up the additional work, right-sized, into the value stream as we’ve laid it out with Georgia Tech.”

Fechner estimates that as a result of collaborating with Georgia Tech, Vought has significantly reduced its investment in capital expenses.

“Georgia Tech provided skilled expertise that was successful in delivering both plans and the analysis in a timely manner,” Fechner said. “This work permitted acquisition of substantial new business that will bridge us well into the future.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Georgia Tech Leverages Lean Knowledge

Through shared training and peer-to-peer relationships, the Georgia Tech Lean Consortium is providing organizations with a forum to advance their knowledge and effective use of lean principles, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations. There are currently 11 south metro Atlanta companies participating with plans to expand across the metro Atlanta area.

According to Larry Alford, south metro Atlanta region manager for Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, members from any economic sector – including manufacturing, service, government or health care – are welcome if they have a vision for lean within their organization, a strategy and commitment to its implementation and successful experiences to share with the consortium.

Every other month, one of the member companies hosts the group at its facility, where they present their challenges and successes with lean principles. After a plant tour, the group provides feedback to identify areas of success, as well as opportunities for further improvement. Members are also offered exclusive training classes in areas that they help to select.

“The Georgia Tech Lean Consortium is a great opportunity for Southwire to network with local companies. It provides an outlet to share ideas and successes regarding lean concepts and fundamentals,” said Jill Morgan, director of operational perfection at the Carrollton-based Southwire. “Each time I attend a meeting, I walk away with pages of ideas and new perspectives on various ways to approach and succeed at lean manufacturing.”

To learn more about the Georgia Tech Lean Consortium, please contact Larry Alford (404-895-5237); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@drofla.yrral) or visit www.gtlean.org.

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Piedmont Newnan Hospital Wins 2008 VHA Georgia Regional Leadership Award

Piedmont Newnan Hospital has been selected as a winner of the 2008 VHA Inc. Georgia Regional Leadership Awards in the Operational Excellence category for their improvements in the operating room that increased patient care and improved patient and physician satisfaction. The improvements were part of assistance from Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

“We are thrilled to be recognized by VHA Georgia for our lean initiative in the operating room,” said Michael Bass, president and CEO of Piedmont Newnan Hospital. “The lean project was initiated in November 2007 in order to improve on our operating room’s service and quality, and it feels great to be recognized for our efforts.”

In their work toward improving Piedmont Newnan Hospital’s operational excellence to enhance patient services, the hospital identified the need to enhance efficiency in several ways including increasing the utilization of operating rooms by 10 percent and reducing turnaround time. With these goals in mind, the hospital, in conjunction with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, applied lean, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations, to their operating room processes.

A cross-functional team of employees identified three rapid process improvement areas: case cart and instrument process flow, standardization of the supply area, operating rooms and central sterile, and room turnaround and specialty team concept. As a result of the lean project, Piedmont Newnan Hospital successfully achieved decreased operating room turnaround times and continues to increase operating room utilization.

“These awards exemplify the efforts that are underway across the state to improve the quality health care being delivered to Georgians. Instead of reinventing the wheel, our members are learning from each others’ successes and failures, and by recognizing these few hospitals, we hope to point others in the right direction,” said Richard T. Howerton, III, FACHE, president and chief executive officer of VHA’s regional office in Atlanta.

VHA Georgia, part of the national health care alliance VHA Inc., recognized 10 Georgia hospitals for improving their supply chain performance, clinical care, operational efficiency and community benefit performance. Each year VHA Georgia, through its annual VHA Georgia Regional Leadership Awards and Expo, honors its member organizations that have exhibited exceptional and innovative improvements. VHA Georgia selects a panel of peers to blindly review the award entries. This year the organization awarded 12 awards, three in each category, out of 51 applications.

Piedmont Newnan Hospital and Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute will present their winning project at the VHA Regional Leadership Expo on Oct. 15, 2008, at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta. The event brings together health care organizations from across the state to network and learn from each other in order to become the state’s and the nation’s best performers.

About Piedmont Newnan Hospital:
Piedmont Newnan Hospital (PNH) is a 143-bed, acute-care hospital in Newnan, Georgia, offering 24-hour emergency services, women’s and children’s services (including OB and inpatient pediatrics), and general medical/surgical services. Diagnostic services include CT, nuclear medicine, MRI, PET, ultrasound and fluoroscopy. A complete range of medical/surgical services includes laparoscopic surgery, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, sleep studies and cardiac catheterization and rehabilitation. With approximately 1,000 employees and a medical staff of more than 150 physicians, PNH is a member of Piedmont Healthcare (PHC), a not-for-profit organization that also includes Piedmont Hospital, a 481-bed acute tertiary care facility offering all major medical, surgical and diagnostic services located on 26 acres in the north Atlanta community of Buckhead; Piedmont Fayette Hospital, a 143-bed, acute-care community hospital located on Highway 54 in Fayetteville; Piedmont Mountainside Hospital, a 42-bed community hospital in Jasper; the Piedmont Heart Institute, an integrated cardiovascular healthcare delivery system that combines premier cardiovascular physicians with the prestigious Fuqua Heart Center of Atlanta; the Piedmont Hospital Foundation, the philanthropic entity for private fundraising initiatives; the Piedmont Physicians Group, with more than 80 primary care physicians in more than 30 offices throughout metro Atlanta; and the Piedmont Clinic, a 563-member physician network. For more information, visit www.piedmontnewnan.org.

About VHA:
VHA Inc., based in Irving, Texas, is a national alliance that provides industry-leading supply chain management services and supports the formation of regional and national networks to help members improve their clinical and economic performance. With 16 offices across the U.S., VHA has a track record of proven results in serving more than 1,400 not-for-profit hospitals and more than 23,000 non-acute health care organizations nationwide.

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, organizations, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation. In 2008, the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EII) created a health care performance group to help address rising costs and improve the quality of health care. The group works with health care providers and service organizations to apply lean management principles – a set of tools derived mostly from the Toyota Production System widely used in manufacturing – that helps identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations. For more information, visit www.innovate.gatech.edu.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contacts: Kelly Hines (770-304-4243); E-mail (gro.nanwentnomdeipnull@senih.yllek).

Driver Services Increases Efficiency with Georgia Tech Assistance

Jackie Upchurch, Kathryn Williams and James Davis of the Georgia Department of Driver Services discuss the agency’s hiring process with Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter, a lean specialist with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

The Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS), under the leadership of Commissioner Greg Dozier, could be a poster child for efforts to make state services faster, friendlier and easier to use. On average, customers who visit one of the driver licensing agency’s 64 statewide customer service centers wait just nine minutes and four seconds before beginning initial service. In 2007, more than 171,000 customers completed licensing transactions online and more than three million Georgians were assisted in person.

Even with all of those accomplishments, there was still room for improvement, in particular the hiring process for driver examiners. The entire process was a lengthy one, 125 days from start to finish. With technical assistance Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, Driver Services began examining the steps involved in the hiring process for ways to eliminate waste.

DDS selected a Rapid Process Improvement (RPI) team – a cross-functional team that deals with the process on a daily basis. The team was trained on lean principles, a set of tools that helps organizations identify and steadily eliminate waste from their operations. In addition to Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter, a Georgia Tech lean specialist, team members from DDS included James Davis from the investigative services division; Donna Garnto, Cheryl Rogers and Jackie Upchurch from the customer service licensing and records division; Johnnette Heard from human resources and Kathryn Williams from the customer service business analysis division. Deputy Commissioner Rob Mikell was also instrumental in assisting the team.

“We took all the documents used in the hiring process – from the time of testing until successful applicants get a hire letter – and laid them out on a brown piece of paper,” Trapp-Lingenfelter said. “Doing this showed all the time delays, duplicated efforts and some of the manual processes that people didn’t realize were occurring.”

Prior to the RPI project, potential driver examiners who passed an online test were mailed release forms for approval to complete criminal, driver and credit background checks. The next step was an interview and, if the applicants were deemed suitable, they would be required to fill out a 33-page background package.

“They were given 10 days to complete the big background packet, and it might be 20 days before I got them back. Of the ones I received, 70 percent were incomplete,” recalled Upchurch. “When that happened, I had to send everything back to them, identifying what needed to be completed. The amount of money we spent in postage was unreal.”

Davis agrees that incomplete applications were a major bottleneck in the process. He estimates that he was spending approximately 75 to 80 percent of his time doing background checks for driver examiners, and he says the process was spiraling out of control.

“One of the biggest problems we were having was applicants not putting in phone numbers or complete addresses and we would have to spend a lot of time searching for contact information. There was miscommunication with the applicants in the wording of the application,” he noted. “It all got to be counter-productive.”

Before the RPI, the process took 45 steps with 18 handoffs between departments. A total of six databases were kept separately by each unit, and the entire hiring process averaged 125 days. Upchurch said one reason the process was complicated was because priority was placed on high-need centers that had low staffing.

“Applicants could choose five centers where they wanted to work, but if you look at a map, we don’t have five centers close together. I was only allowed to interview for the eight high-need centers, so we had a growing pool of applicants that didn’t get interviewed,” she recalled. “I kept separate spreadsheets on each of these groups, and I never knew which spreadsheet I was working from – it was a huge spreadsheet nightmare.”

As a result of the RPI, several changes were made. These included implementation of a standardized and documented process, the elimination of multiple databases and unnecessary handoffs, creation of a regional interview board for examiners that includes center managers, selection of designated interview days, and development of an improved and streamlined background packet. Now instead of multiple databases, there is a single database to track an applicant in process.

Since the changes were implemented, the total time required to process an application has been reduced by 56 percent. Instead of 45 steps with 18 handoffs, the hiring process can be completed in 20 steps with nine handoffs. The revision of the background process alone reduced costs by 75 percent. The results were so impressive that Driver Services was honored in May 2008 with the Innovations Award during the Georgia Public Employee Award Recognition Program.

“Once a year the state allows you to submit applications for individual and team awards in five categories, and Driver Services was proud this year to receive two of the five awards, including the Innovations Award for the rapid process improvement project,” said Williams. “We’re still not where we want to be yet, but this is a process. We are constantly finding these new ways of improving it, and that’s the essence of continuous improvement.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Duluth Manufacturer Implements Lean, Improves Bottom Line

A worker at Spectral Response in Duluth inspects a circuit board before it is shipped to a customer. Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute assisted the company with improving its manufacturing processes.

Spectral Response, a Duluth-based manufacturer of circuit boards, has a lot going for it. It just celebrated its 21st year in business, 70 percent of its workforce has been employed there between five and 10 years, and it won the 2008 Georgia Manufacturer of the Year Award from the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education and the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

But Kevin Melendy, president of the company, says Spectral Response had to develop innovative ways of thinking to survive and thrive.

“Like everybody, we faced an onslaught of competition from low-cost manufacturing. We had to find a way to compete,” he said. “We had to either fight to survive or try to find new and expanding business segments that have higher margins and less competition, and those just don’t exist.”

To improve the company’s manufacturing process, Melendy turned to Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute for assistance. Lean specialists Kelley Hundt and Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter initially visited Spectral Response to help streamline the way the company initiated product orders. After developing a value stream map – a diagram used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer – they suggested the project focus on the entire manufacturing floor plan.

“The factory floor was being driven by the how orders were loaded. If a customer called, we had to figure out a way to get it done, whether it was working nights, weekends or three shifts,” Melendy recalled. “But as our business grew and the margin pressures were layered on top of that, we didn’t have that luxury any more. We had to take an order from a customer and make sure our supply chain commitments matched up to our manufacturing processes.”

After meeting with Spectral Response’s leadership, Hundt and Trapp-Lingenfelter both thought the company’s manufacturing process would benefit from a cellular design. At the time, the company was arranged in functional departments that caused excess work-in-process, long lead times and lack of flexibility. Cellular manufacturing, sometimes referred to as cell production, arranges factory floor labor into semi-autonomous and multi-skilled teams that manufacture complete products. These more flexible cells are able to manage processes, defects, scheduling, equipment maintenance and other manufacturing issues more efficiently.

After training the entire 137-member workforce on lean manufacturing principles, a cross-functional team of eight employees examined the “before” process, brainstormed ideas and used lean tools to highlight areas of improvement. The team decided to shut down operations during the week of July 4, 2007, to re-arrange all of the equipment into nine different cellular production lines.

“We used to refer to the floor plan as the snake, and a product had to travel through the entire snake, meaning it was in a single file. If we started a product on Monday, it might be ready to be shipped on Friday,” said David Shockley, vice president of operations. “With the cell production, we can have nine parallel lines – much shorter in length – producing nine products at once. Now, products are ready to be shipped within 48 hours after the order is launched in the system.”

Not only did the cellular design reduce the length of time from the order initiation until it was ready to be shipped, but it also helped with orders that needed to be re-worked or changed. Todd Owens, lean manager for Spectral Response, estimates that inventory in this area was cut by more than one-third.

“Before, the boards that did not pass the testing area would just get set aside into what we called the bone pile. We would have to find time to go back and re-work them, and that inventory became a significant dollar amount,” he said. “Now, we handle the failed board as we run them through the individual cells. A year ago, the value of the bone pile inventory was more than $300,000; today, it’s around $80,000.”

As a result of the lean implementation, Spectral Response has seen a number of impressive impacts. Total work-in-process has decreased by more than one-half, from $2 million to approximately $800,000 worth of inventory. Lead times have been cut in half, overtime is down from 15 percent to less than five percent, and there is 40 percent more floor space for future growth. Melendy also estimates that the company’s electricity bill has decreased by 20 percent, since it is using big, power-hungry equipment less.

“It’s easy to quit on this because it’s difficult, but ultimately you come out on the other side with a company that’s more efficient and better run than when you first started,” Shockley noted. “In July 2008, we will implement cell number ten, and it will be our highest volume product. We are committed to this being a never-ending, continual process.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Cabinet Maker Moves Business Forward with Georgia Tech Assistance

Andy Helm (left) and David Apple (right) discuss a new plant layout with Jonathan White, vice president of Economy Cabinets.

Fourteen years ago, father-and-son team Charlie and Greg White started Economy Cabinets, Inc. with three employees in a rented space the size of a garage. Today the White, Ga.-based company — which has expanded its original plywood cabinet product to include wholesale birch, oak, maple and poplar cabinets — is located in a 15,000-square-foot facility and employs 12 people. This summer, Economy will move into a 30,000-square-foot building across the street from its current location.

“We’ve had really rapid growth in the past couple of years, and our company has more than doubled in size,” noted Jonathan White, the company’s vice president. “I don’t have a background in engineering or manufacturing, and I really wanted our business to be poised for growth once we moved into the new facility.”

To address this challenge, White sought the counsel of David Apple, northwest Georgia region manager with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. White asked for assistance implementing lean management principles, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations.

Apple developed a plant layout for both the current and future facilities, an activity that pointed out opportunities for improving efficiency. By timing all of the individual steps in making cabinets, he identified a time spike on gluing and sanding doors.

“All of the individual processes were taking one or two minutes, and when we got to the putty and sanding, the time required was over seven minutes. It was astronomical,” White recalled. “We knew we had to solve that, so I found a new cutting tool that eliminated the need for putty and sanding. It cut that final step down to less than two minutes.”

White also attended Georgia Tech’s lean boot camp, a four-day class that teaches participants how lean impacts profit, lead-time, inventory, quality and customer service. By the end of the course, White was able to map both current and future value streams, identify appropriate techniques for improvement, develop a lean strategy for Economy and plan the application of specific lean techniques.

The first area he tackled was 5S, a philosophy of organizing and managing the workspace with the intent to improve efficiency and safety.

“The visual cues and 5S and having everything in its place – all of that was a novel idea to my employees when we started and now it’s just a way of life,” White said. “Before the lean boot camp, I understood some of the lean concepts, but I didn’t get the big picture. Now I understand it.”

White implemented visual cues to assist with re-ordering the company’s saw blades. Prior to implementing this tool, White would work directly with the person sharpening his saw blades, guessing which machines needed new blades and distributing them to the floor himself. Now, the vendor merely visits a tool board on which the blades needing to be sharpened are hung by employees. This allows him to basically service the entire shop himself.

“This was a hidden waste. It’s a huge waste when you have a saw down for two hours, while someone goes to get a new blade because you ran out of sharp blades,” Apple observed. “Now, the operator always has a sharp blade available when it’s needed, it eliminates searching for a blade he doesn’t have, and it eliminates buying unneeded, new blades.”

Although the cabinet industry overall has suffered a 15 percent business decline this year, sales for Economy Cabinets are up by 10 percent. Through attrition, the workforce at Economy Cabinets has decreased by five employees, but White says that his company’s productivity has increased by 20 percent and inventory has been reduced by 15 percent.

Economy Cabinets has also received assistance from e2e Works, a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute that helps entrepreneurs in the state of Georgia.

Andy Helm, an entrepreneur outreach specialist with e2e Works, continues to assist Economy Cabinets by providing expertise in business management practices, technical assistance and access to a variety of industry-specific resources. E2e Works entrepreneur outreach specialists are charged with helping existing entrepreneurs and startup companies in rural Georgia grow their businesses.

“The efficiencies that Jonathan has gotten through the plant have allowed him to meet delivery times that his competitors can’t, and that’s a huge competitive advantage in this industry,” said Helm. “It’s that customer service that keeps his clients coming back.”

White also credits being able to meet deadlines and increase efficiency to having a committed workforce. By offering workers a four-day, 40-hour work week and monetary incentives for meeting goals, he has also seen a dramatic difference in the company’s turnover rate.

“We’re grateful to Andy and David and Georgia Tech for the impact they’ve made on the company,” he said. “Lean is a journey; it’s something you do every day.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Comprehensive Assistance Helps Commerce Manufacturer Improve Production, Develop New Products and Cut Energy Costs

Whoever coined the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” obviously never heard of Roper Pumps. The 150-year-old company, which just celebrated its fiftieth year in Commerce, Ga., is recognized as a leading supplier of industrial pumps.

“Historically, Roper Pumps has been very vertically integrated. We pretty much made everything in-house and bought almost nothing outside – your basic company with blinders on,” explained Jim Simonelli, vice president of business development for Roper Pumps. “We had some issues with quality and did a Six Sigma project on our own to identify and remove the causes for errors and defects. Based on the success there, we started thinking that if we got some outside help, we would have even greater success.”

That’s when the company contacted Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute for assistance with implementing lean management principles, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations. Walt Stadnisky, president of Roper Pumps, serves on the Industry Services Board for the Enterprise Innovation Institute and was aware of available services. Karen Fite and Frank Mewborn, Georgia Tech lean specialists, led a project to help Roper Pumps reduce lead time, inventory and production costs while improving production capacity, cash flow and response time to the customer.

The first step in the process was to develop a current state map. By walking through the process, the team observed and documented value-added versus non-value-added time spent on each step. The observations were striking: for one product line, the non-value added steps totaled 18 days whereas the value-added steps took a mere 42 minutes. After a brainstorming session, the team chose to focus on waste, changeover time, production planning and material productivity.

“To eliminate waste, the team at Roper Pumps implemented 5S, a method of cleaning up and organizing the workplace that typically results in labeled and color-coded storage locations, as well as kits that contain just what is needed to perform a particular task,” Mewborn said. “We implemented point-of-use tooling and gauges, as well as point-of-use material, saving more than 300 miles of travel per year within the plant.”

The company also developed a kanban system (a signaling system used to trigger a particular action), implemented a quick change tooling method to reduce changeover time, and eliminated outsourcing heat treatment (a method used to harden or soften a material in manufacturing). Changeover time went from 88 to 38 minutes, a 55 percent decrease; lead time went from 18 to eight days; and material travel was reduced by 450 feet daily. By no longer outsourcing the heat treatment, the company also saved $18,000 annually.

“All of the lean projects we did with Georgia Tech went so well, we decided to get their assistance with product development,” said Simonelli. “We’ve taken our blinders off in terms of how we produce a product and handle any problems that might arise. Instead of outsourcing, I prefer to call it best-sourcing.”

Charles France, a growth services specialist with the Enterprise Innovation Institute, began working with Roper Pumps in 2007 to put more rigor into its product development program. During a two-day planning event, Georgia Tech facilitated a brainstorming session that resulted in more than 150 ideas for new products involving new market entry, improved sales distribution channels, upgrading existing products and product processes, new technologies and creative arrangements with potential partners.

“Roper Pumps had been experiencing problems common to product development, such as too many projects in the pipeline and legacy projects that wouldn’t go away,” France said. “We provided guidelines for implementing more stringent evaluation criteria and consulted on improving key aspects of their existing new product development processes. Roper Pumps not only prioritized new product projects but also was able to cull out the legacy projects, thus freeing up resources to focus on the most promising new products.”

Simonelli said that France’s assistance helped Roper Pumps avoid an ill-fated project that would have cost $300,000. The company is now pursuing a major product development for its main product line – gear pumps – that will provide product sales for decades. Out of the 150 ideas generated at the brainstorming session, 12 ideas rose to the top and have been added to Roper Pumps’ long-term strategic plan.

Phil Smith, Roper Pumps’ vice president of operations, is also working with energy specialist Matt Soderlund to audit Roper Pumps’ energy usage. On his initial visit, Soderlund identified $15,000 in potential annual savings based on Georgia Power’s billing structure.

“Georgia Tech has a host of wonderful programs and if you look at the cost of getting this highly professional experience, I don’t know how anybody can turn it down,” said Simonelli. “The value is outstanding. The biggest worth is the overall culture change Georgia Tech has helped bring to Roper Pumps.”
About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Georgia Tech Helps Streamline Assistance to Georgia’s Families and Children

In February 2007, Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) embarked on a journey to introduce lean methodology into its organizational culture. The effort, which was initiated by Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Commission for a New Georgia, aims to make Georgia the best-managed state in America through the Office of Customer Service, tasked with making access to state services faster, friendlier and easier.

“People in DFCS work hard and have huge workloads, so asking them to take a week away from work to participate in the improvement process was a challenge,” recalled Gwen Bailey, Rapid Process Improvement (RPI) champion for field operations.

Mona Castile, the Spalding County supervisor for Aged, Blind and Disabled (ABD) Medicaid, was one worker short and had gotten transferred back onto a caseload with a three-month backlog when the RPI initiative began. RPI, also known as lean management, is a set of tools that helps to identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations.

“By the end of the week of training, we were full supporters of RPI,” she said. “When you start hearing talk about improving customer service, a lot of times you may be concerned that improving services for external customers could come at the expense of internal customers (staff). This has been a win-win for external as well as internal customers.”

With technical assistance from lean specialists at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, DFCS began to identify areas for improvement within Medicaid, the program area designated by Commissioner B.J. Walker for lean implementation. In February 2007, the DFCS leadership team began meeting with Bill Ritsch of Georgia Tech and representatives from the Governor’s Office of Customer Service to discuss and develop plans for working with DFCS staff.

“We conducted RPI events on Medicaid determination of eligibility processes in June, July and August in Clayton County, Henry County and Spalding County. Weekly reporting mechanisms were developed to enable us to monitor post-implementation progress,” noted Bailey. “The big picture was to embed lean methodology in DFCS operations.”

At the Family Medicaid Intake event, the goal was to reduce processing time for new applications while increasing accuracy. Prior to the implementation, people seeking to establish Medicaid eligibility would wait an average of nine to 49 days.

With a target goal of 12 days or fewer, the county office dedicated two case managers to processing Family Medicaid Intake applications. The RPI team also developed metrics to track performance and created written practice standards. Now, customers who walk in with all of the necessary information to process an application will likely receive same-day determinations.

“There’s been no policy change – policy still allows varying standards for timely completion of applications – 10 or 45 days. But now we’ve got a targeted goal of 12 days and it’s a goal that’s being measured on a weekly basis,” Bailey said. “As you know, what gets measured gets done, and we want to make that goal.”

Once clients are determined eligible for Medicaid, they must be reviewed every six months. This area – Family Medicaid Ongoing – was the focus of the team’s second RPI event. The goal was to improve the quality of information submitted for re-determination and to encourage earlier response from customers.

“No face-to-face interaction is required to establish or continue Medicaid eligibility. Our review form – which is mailed out to determine continued eligibility – was reduced from four to two pages,” noted Carlene Burgess, DFCS RPI champion. “We also gave customers a shorter response time and simplified written communications mailed out in an effort to reduce the need for checklists and follow-up phone calls.”

In a three-month measurement before the RPI implementation, DFCS staff had to send follow-up checklists to between 69 to 92 percent of its customers; post-RPI, that number decreased to 34 to 60 percent. Before the implementation, between 49 to 56 percent of customers sent in their information within the allotted four-week time; afterwards, that number rose to 61 to 67 percent.

The third RPI event focused on ABD Medicaid Intake. As with Family Medicaid Intake, the team wanted to reduce the processing time for new applications while increasing accuracy. According to Castile, before the RPI it took 25 days to process qualified Medicare beneficiary applications. It now takes two days on average.

“We implemented same-day face-to-face consultation for all ABD walk-ins, established a ‘duty worker’ who was scheduled specifically to see ABD customers and updated the self-service application station,” Castile said. “This has really made a big difference, because it means people will get that all-important medical assistance and they’ll have access to it much faster. By paying the Medicare premium for our clients, it increases the amount they receive from Social Security.”

Ritsch acknowledged the project had its challenges, but says that the end results speak for themselves.

“The only thing consistent in this world is change, and even though RPI isn’t rocket science, it’s still really hard to change the culture of any organization,” he said. “DFCS has really begun to follow the PDCA principle – plan, do, check, act – and they will have continued success as a result.”

In May 2008 with Georgia Tech’s assistance, DFCS began a four-module series of training for an additional 40 employees to become RPI champions. By the end of August, new RPI processes will be developed for presentation to DFCS leadership.

“We think RPI can transform how we do business. DFCS is a large agency that touches a lot of lives,” Bailey noted. “Services to Georgia residents can’t help but get better as a result of us streamlining our operations and it will help with getting services out to the customer faster, friendlier and easier.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

South Georgia Truss Manufacturer Improves Bottom Line with Georgia Tech Assistance

Lee Matthews, operations manager for Universal Forest Products, and Art Ford, south Georgia region manager for the Enterprise Innovation Institute, discuss lean issues in the Ashburn facility.

Assembling wooden roof trusses used in building construction can be a little like putting together a puzzle. Many different parts must first be cut to the right size and shape, then placed into the proper location on the truss.

Until recently, the flow of these parts had been a complicated and time-consuming process for workers at Universal Forest Products in Ashburn. After being cut, thousands of parts were first stored in a rack, then moved to a cart which held the components needed for a particular truss. At the end of each work day, the cart was moved to a storage location, then returned to the assembly location when work resumed the next day.

“We didn’t have a problem building the trusses – we build about 9,000 a week – but cutting all those components was challenging,” said Lee Matthews, operations manager for the Ashburn, Ga., facility. “I was running high in overtime, and we even went as far as putting on a small second shift. We needed a better flow.”

It was not uncommon to have as many as 16,000 pieces cut and stored, waiting for assembly. Now that number is zero – thanks to a continuous improvement initiative instituted by the company with help from the Enterprise Innovation Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The improvement process began when management and front-line supervisors from the company completed lean training offered by the Enterprise Innovation Institute. The leadership group learned how to eliminate overproduction from traditional scheduling systems, produce products based on customer demand and utilize value stream mapping as a tool to guide implementation efforts. Value stream maps are diagrams used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer.

Sam Darwin, a Georgia Tech lean specialist, led the initial sessions as part of Universal Forest Products’ corporate training effort that brought participants from around the country for two days of internal training and a lean overview. Since then, training sessions have been conducted in five other states in addition to five plants in Georgia. In total, Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute has led 32 projects for the company.

“The decision to partner with Georgia Tech was a simple one,” Matthews recalled. “We asked them to help us analyze where we could improve flow in regards to cutting the components for roof trusses.”

John Stephens and Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter, Georgia Tech lean specialists, visited the Ashburn facility and met with management to discuss the facility’s issues. They suggested developing a value stream map on the entire process of making roof trusses – from raw material all the way through the finished product.

“I realized we needed to look at the whole picture, not just the cutting operations,” noted Stephens. “This would help identify where the true bottlenecks were forming and why.”

To identify opportunities for improvement, the team working on the value stream map measured how far the individual truss components had to travel and then brainstormed ways to reduce that. Matthews admits he initially had his doubts.

“I’ve been in this business 21 years and worked with 15 plants all over the United States. I felt like I had pretty much seen it all – been there and done that,” he said. “John suggested that we work toward a one-piece flow system. I thought was he was crazy, but he asked me to try just one machine.”

After trying it once, Matthews was convinced to implement the idea on all of his presses. The Ashburn facility is now the only plant among all of Universal Forest Product’s 80 locations to have one-piece flow. The plant also implemented visual cues for scheduling the various components to be cut.

“Before implementing lean, I had to store a lot of small pieces. At any given time I had about $40,000 worth of work-in-process (WIP) on the yard. That $40,000 is now down to about $10,000,” Matthews said. “And for trusses we build for manufactured housing customers, we have zero WIP on the floor at the end of each day.”

The Ashburn plant has also seen a decrease in the amount of time it takes to schedule work orders. Before, it would take a production manager approximately two and a half hours each day to schedule the thousands of components needed; now it is done in a matter of minutes as a result of the visual cues. According to Matthews, this has also cut down on the number of mistakes made and improved product quality. In 2007, on-time delivery was 77.1 percent; thus far in 2008, it has increased to 84.1 percent.

“We have customers who are beginning their journey into lean manufacturing and have requested tours of our facility because of our success story,” Matthews noted. “This has had a very positive influence partnering and building relationships with our customers.”

Another area greatly impacted by the lean implementation was in safety. In addition to reducing forklift and banding exposure, employees no longer need to climb on tables to load overhead racks and they eliminated loading and unloading above shoulder height.

“Because we’ve removed so many non-value added steps, I’m ready to reduce my forklift fleet by three,” he said. “We’re also saving thousands of dollars a year because we implemented a point-of-use storage and we have reduced overtime in the truss area by 20 percent.”

In fact, the value stream map project proved to be so successful in the truss area that Matthews decided to conduct a similar project in the finger joint department at the beginning of 2008. Finger joints are made by making a set of complementary rectangular cuts in two pieces of wood, which are then glued. The finger-jointed boards that Universal Forest Products manufactures are used in mobile and modular homes and office modular buildings.

“My two production managers conducted the value stream map for the finger joint area, using a process similar to the one Georgia Tech had shown us,” Matthews said. “We wanted a wide representation of participants, so we included everyone from myself to production managers to supervisors to forklift drivers to folks who ran the rip and component saws. We want everyone to feel like they are a part of a team and that their voice matters.”

Most recently, Matthews asked lean specialists Trapp-Lingenfelter and Tara Barrett to return to Ashburn to conduct a value stream map for the sales and administration office. The group examined the order process for the plant, including order entry and pricing. Matthews also anticipates big benefits from the project.

“We developed a sales form that’s more consistent that can generate quotes and orders, so we’re not duplicating work. This will speed the process up, and allow our sales people to sell the product instead of doing paperwork,” he said.

As with many process improvement initiatives, the biggest challenge to completing the projects was achieving employee buy-in, especially with the office staff. Matthews says that while they could see the benefits of lean in manufacturing, they didn’t readily appreciate how it could benefit their jobs.

“Employees do not mind working smarter to make their jobs easier, safer and more productive. If we give the employees the tools, time and instruction they need, they will solve most of the problems we encounter day-to-day,” he said. “Georgia Tech was able to open everyone’s eyes to a different thought process that forced us to recognize the importance of eliminating non-value added activities. We are ecstatic about what the Georgia Tech team was able to do for us.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright