Leaning for the Long Haul
Donnelly Custom Manufacturing is on a Lean journey and shows no sign of slowing down.
BY SARAH ASP OLSON
Custom Manufacturing in Alexandria were an athlete, the shortrun injection molding company would be a world-class 100-meter sprinter, according to Ron Kirscht,its president.
"There'sa lot of complexity in short run; we have 33 injection molding machines that run 4,000 active molds out of 450 materials," he says. "[We] have to have a lot of twitch-muscle strength as a short-run manufacturer in the ability to be very quick and
agile--things that aren't typically associated with successive molding."
At the same time, Kirscht's commitment to keeping Donnelly's processes lean, its employees engaged and its operations running smoothly is more like a marathon than a sprint.
"I view our lean manufacturing journey as we're eight years into an 80-year process," he says. "We're going to continue to use it and continue to measure and identify opportunities that improve us tactically or strategically."
Starting the Lean Journey
Kirscht began thinking about lean several years ago as a way to meet new ISO standard requirements. After doing some initial research, he began piloting both lean with Enterprise Minnesota and GE's Six Sigma--a business management strategy originally developed by Motorola.
While both offered certain advantages, Kirscht found that lean was a better fit for the unique needs of a short-run manufacturer.
"With Six Sigma, by the time he got all the data collected and all the information he needed, the problem no longer applied because things change so fast in his world," says Rick Kvasager, an Enterprise Minnesota growth adviser who has been working with Donnelly for nearly
18 years. "That's when he decided he had to go the lean manufacturing route."
The first step for Kirscht was to put his entire staff through Lean 101 training.
"By getting the Lean 101 training," he says, "we were able to expose the entire company to the language, basic tenets and phrases in lean manufacturing to get everybody leaning in the same direction."
Kirscht and his team then began to look at how they could apply GreenLeanSM principles to Donnelly's everyday processes in order to increase speed, reduce costs, improve quality and services and increase customer satisfaction. Applying Value Stream Mapping (VSM) to mold changeovers
was a natural place to focus those initial Lean improvement efforts.
As a result of the Donnelly team's initial VSM event in 2003, they determined the distance for a part to travel could be cut in half, paperwork reduced by 25 percent, transactions made in the system reduced by 40 percent, inventory reduced by 50 percent and overall cycle
reduced by 33 percent.
From that point, the company was hooked on lean, but, according to Sam Wagner, Donnelly's director of advanced manufacturing, those first numbers were just a bonus.
"The most important result of this initial event was not those measurable results, but that it was the first step in our lean journey," he says. "It is the step that got us moving in the right direction. The second and subsequent steps helped support and confirm the first
step. As such, this first step made all the difference."
One of the subsequent steps came in the form of 5S--which stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain. Through lean training, Kirscht and the Donnelly team learned the importance of what he calls "good housekeeping" through the 5S program. Enterprise
Minnesota's 5S program coaches participants in organizing and de-cluttering for cleaner, smoother-running operations.
"5S is the essence of lean because if you lack the discipline in your housekeeping, you lack the discipline operationally to do a good job of managing change," Kirscht says. "The 5S component of lean is a key indicator of business preparedness and ultimately what your
success will be in adopting, implementing and going on your lean journey."
Next Step: TWI
Having found success through Lean 101, VSM and 5S, Kirscht and Wagner wanted to take GreenLeanSM principles even further.
"They'd been doing a lot of training and [Kirscht] could see if they were going to remain successful in this short-run manufacturing world, he was going to have to continue to do a lot of training," Kvasager says. "After hearing [about] Training Within Industries (TWI),
he thought it would most likely help [their] efforts."
Wagner and a group of Donnelly's managers went through initial TWI classes in order to test the program and make sure it was a good fit for the company culture. Then in 2005, they began to implement TWI in earnest.
When it came time to train the trainer in Job Relations, Job Methods and Job Instructions, Donnelly took a unique approach. Instead of assigning one manager to train in all three areas, Wagner and Kirscht identified three managers within the company who would be best suited to
each of the three TWI areas.
"We both know that if you actually go through and train somebody else in something you learn something better and practice it better," says Wagner, who opted for the train the trainer program in the Job Instructions area.
"Your ownership is higher," Kirscht says.
Thanks to Wagner and Kirscht's innovative thinking, Donnelly has experienced success across all three TWI areas.
Not only did the company cut its new employee training time from months to days through Job Instructions training, but it also increased sales by $5 million, invested $500,000 in new equipment and created 15 new jobs since starting TWI.
A Cultural Shift
One of the most notable successes in Donnelly's TWI journey is in the area of Job Methods. Initially, Wagner was looking for a better way to gather and process employee suggestions for continuous improvement. Since implementing Job Methods in the shop, the results have
"Every business owner wants to have an effective suggestion program [to identify] things that aren't set up right, or aren't as productive physically, [or] as comfortable, or there's a better way to do it--but top management cannot figure that stuff out because we're not
doing the work," Kirscht says. "Job Methods empowers your employees to have good ideas. [It] allows people to make improvements in the areas where they work and to see improvements being made. It really supports and confirms an employee's belief system about a company, its
products and services, and their importance and relevancy to that company."
Because of Kirscht's commitment to Job Methods, he, Wagner and others have been able to create a work environment in which employees constantly are thinking about ways they can do their jobs better--and then can implement those changes in very short order.
"In any work environment, you're going to have your complainers," Wagner says. "Now what's happening is their peers on the floor are saying, 'If you don't like it, why don't you do a Job Methods improvement on it.' All of a sudden, it turns from an environment of
complaining to an environment of solving problems and making improvements."
In the years since Donnelly implemented the Job Methods program, the company went from just a handful of employee suggestions in 2006 to 1,600 Job Methods improvement ideas in 2009. What's more, about 97 percent of the submitted suggestions were adopted.
As suggestions and improvements continue to rise with each shift, Wagner and Kirscht notice the culture on the floor changing, even among those employees who have not yet completed Job Methods training.
Recently, Wagner was doing a walk around on the shop floor and stopped to talk with Josh, a press operator on the line.
"He said: 'See this air hose down here on the press? It's on the operator's side. I do a lot of changeovers [and] I have to ask the person on the other side to bend and feed the air hose through. I'm just wondering if it would be possible to put an air hose on the other side
of the press.'"
Wagner liked the idea and suggested Josh get together with an employee who had completed the training to write up a Job Methods improvement. He did, and the problem was fixed.
"To me, it wasn't that big of a deal," says Wagner, who is now used to employees taking ownership of their work stations and suggesting improvements.
But later in the day, another employee stopped in at Wagner's office and reported that Josh was thrilled that his idea had been accepted and implemented.
"It really struck me as a reminder of the power and the enthusiasm that people have for coming up with and implementing their ideas," he says. Kirscht is convinced that these small continual improvements not only affect Donnelly's internal culture and productivity, but they
also keep the company sharp and that much farther ahead of the competition.
"Big improvement ideas--like buying a central drying system--competitors can do that," says Kirscht. "But these little ideas that your employees come up with every day, those are the things your competitors can't copy; and those are the things that can give you a
sustained, competitive advantage."
By any standards, Donnelly has achieved incredible success when it comes to implementing and sustaining lean manufacturing practices. But Kirscht, Wagner and the entire Donnelly team are not content to rest on their past accomplishments. They keep pushing forward and
continually apply what they've learned to every area of the company.
"We really see that we have to continue to tie into that mindset," Wagner says. "We've taken the TWI principles and concepts and ... developed our own mistake-proofing workshop, where we actually bring problem jobs in and come up with ways to mistake-proof them in a
Donnelly also has used TWI Job Instructions concepts to put together a training package for employees on how to use process monitoring to troubleshoot jobs on the spot.
"Before we had the knowledge and skills of TWI, we wouldn't have known exactly the best way to go about doing that and how to do it effectively and efficiently," Wagner says. "Those are the kinds of things we need to keep doing to build everyone's problem-solving skills
to be able to make improvements."
Continuing the Lean Journey
Since starting lean, Donnelly has seen a 35 percent increase in value added per employee. Additionally, scrap rates have dropped by more than 50 percent, cost quality has improved and the company turnover rate is about onethird of the industry average.
This level of success, according to Kvasager, is directly related to Kirscht's commitment to following through with every lean project the company begins.
"Once [Donnelly] has decided to adopt an initiative like lean manufacturing, because of Ron Kirscht's management style, he will not let that drag or die," he says. "Through Ron's leadership, they have been able to just constantly cut away at their waste and reduce their
waste probably as much--or more--as any company that we've worked with."
Kirscht agrees that commitment from management is key to making Donnelly's lean projects a success, and he does not see the company's enthusiasm for lean wearing down.
"We'll stick with it--that's why we'll continue to get benefits from it," he says. "There's always opportunity to identify the next round of improvements and make those. ... We're just trying to be a better company tomorrow than we are today."