By Joe Boomgaard | MiBiz firstname.lastname@example.org
GRAND RAPIDS — Kindel Furniture Co. unveiled its largest product rollout ever at one time at April’s High Point Furniture Market. It was a feat made possible by the company’s new emphasis on lean manufacturing, according to President and CEO Jon Smith.
The high-end furniture manufacturer debuted more than 20 models in Carleton Varney’s Dorothy Draper signature series, plus 30 existing product variations or modifications — whether in finish or type of wood used — at the biannual show in North Carolina, where dealers and designers place orders.
Smith said over the last three to four months, the company has been implementing lean manufacturing by consolidating its operations into a smaller footprint inside its three-story 1912 facility.
"Chairs used to travel 3,000 feet and take 16 elevator rides," Smith told MiBiz. "Today, they travel 750 feet and take only two elevator rides. It’s more efficient and faster and takes cost out the customer doesn’t value."
The handmade furniture starts on the building’s main floor, where it is milled into rough shapes before veneer is applied or the piece is sent upstairs for carving. In the case of handcrafted wood dining chairs, Smith rearranged workspaces in the plant so that all chair making takes place within one room. Inside that room, the only machines or materials allowed are those related to chairs, and the material flows through the room in an organized manner, progressing closer to a finished, assembled product.
Smith said some sanding equipment unrelated to the chairs was relocated from the room to ensure the focus remained on one product. Through the use of designated spaces for raw material intake, employees in the chair area have a clear idea when additional work is at hand. If they see no new material is available and they’ve finished working on all the stock they had, the workers can go to the rough mill or other areas in the shop to see how they can help expedite getting more raw materials to the chair-making room.
Kindel is one of only a handful of manufacturers that still makes its own dining chairs, Smith said.
Lean has also taught Kindel how to make the most of the space it has with its 135 employees. Smith said the company is relocating its upholstery division to a better lit upper floor that allows workers to use natural light, which produces fewer shadows and allows employees to produce a better product.
"With lean, we’ve been able to add 30 percent to our capacity without the addition of machines or people, and it’s allowed us to take 20 new products to market," Smith said.
While he doesn’t have any solid data quantifying the production benefits of lean implementation, Smith expects he will by the end of the year.
He also credits the implementation of lean practices with allowing the company to absorb more custom ordered furniture, as well as the recently introduced Kindel ReNew program in which old pieces of furniture are refurbished.
"We only build what we sell," Smith said. "It’s made us so much more efficient."
The fine pieces built by Kindel’s team of carvers and finishers can go through hundreds of hours of work before being finished, so it’s important for the company to be as efficient as possible in its use of time. Previously, many pieces would take 8-10 weeks to finish. Smith hopes lean practices will help drive that number down.
Smith said one of Kindel’s constant struggles is to find the right people for the organization. People with woodcarving or finishing skills, for example, are slowly becoming harder and harder to find.
"As we continue to grow, we’re training people in those skill sets," Smith said.
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This article appeared in the Monday, April 28, 2008 issue of MiBiz, read by upper management executives in West and Southwest Michigan. Print subscriptions are free to qualified individuals who are employed in West and Southwest Michigan. For further information about MiBiz, visit www.mibiz.com. (A link to MiBiz's Web site is required).