Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - September 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
Lean's Ripple Effect
St. Paul printer Western Graphics helps its clients “print less.”
The Western Graphics team makes lean fun with Olympic medals and its own edition of Monopoly. First row, left to right: Tim Keran, CEO/owner; Neal Johnson, president. Second row, left to right: Jolyne Cross, lean champion; Cassie Sonnicksen, accounting lead; Claire Bailey, premedia. Back row, left to right: Eric Moen, project manager; Jon Beck, digital lead; Matt Hammes, finishing lead.
While at a conference in Jacksonville, Florida, Western Graphics CEO Tim Keran watched a seven-minute video that changed the way he runs his business.
The silent video documented a press operator walking around a shop floor looking for something. A timer in the upper right hand corner of the screen timed his search, second-by-second. At seven minutes, he happily returned with a ruler, which he had needed to rule out his press sheet.
“He had a $350 per hour press down for seven minutes looking for a $3 ruler,” Keran says. “I knew right away when I was sitting in that conference room that that was going on at Western Graphics. I returned and told my VP of operations, ‘we’ve got to go on a lean journey.’ That’s how it started.”
Employees at the St. Paul printer began by “red-tagging” items they felt went unused, and ended up filling four 40-yard dumpsters with unnecessary clutter, including one full dumpster of paper. Extra furniture was auctioned off to employees. Keran says the event’s success got everyone on board with the value of lean. “It’s like how everybody feels better once they clean out the garage or the closet,” he says.
Five years and more than 2,000 documented improvements into its lean journey, Western Graphics has realized a 70 percent decrease in quality defects, higher profitability and significantly lower turnover thanks to simplified processes, less waste and frustration, and a companywide commitment to improvements.
“The value of lean for us is ‘how simple things can be.’ In the process of simplifying things and correcting things one at a time, you pile up a lot of those little improvements and it turns into a big bang,” Keran says.
Now, Western Graphics is taking that philosophy to its clients, asking each how it can help them to simplify their operations. For one client, Western Graphics now emails its invoices instead of mailing them. For another, it adds a cost center number on each packing slip. The simple switches have saved clients significant time. Keran says the company is committed to making 10 percent of its improvements specifically for its customers.
“Some of these little things in life are irritating, but we live with them for some reason because we don’t feel that we can ask for a change. We’re trying to teach our customers to tell us what they want, so we can make it work better for them,” Keran explains.
To keep both internal and external improvements coming, Western Graphics hosts a board game linked to making lean improvements. This year, it’s Monopoly. Teams that make improvements receive Monopoly money to add to their property and spin to win prizes on the game board. Each month, recognition for the three best improvements is awarded in the form of “Olympic medals.” Western Graphics has even instituted a quarterly profit sharing program for all employees, which Keran says maintains a companywide dedication to solving problems and bettering the business, one improvement at a time.
“We’ve got this winning culture now that we didn’t used to have,” he says. “I think lean is a big part of that. … It’s a flywheel of success. Everyone’s helping each other and we’re all on the same team.”
To learn more about Western Graphics, visit www.westerngx.com
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