For another great example of a humble beginnings to an outrageously successful Minnesota manufacturer, check out the fall issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine®. Writer Sue Bruns profiles SWI Interiors, a company that has grown from an old building on a family farm into a thriving two-state enterprise with a commitment to continuous improvement.
SWI (originally Steve’s Woodworking, Inc.) started in 1996, when a teenager named Steve Pachel began refinishing and building furniture in a repurposed pig barn. Pachel’s operation quickly outgrew its original space, so he moved into a converted dairy barn on the same property. By 2007, he had outgrown that building too, and bought an old sawmill in Osage.
Before he could relocate to the sawmill, a fire in the dairy barn destroyed all work in progress and most of his machinery. With the support and encouragement of suppliers, Pachel and his team spent the next two days gearing back up; three days after the fire, they were building cabinets in the sawmill location.
SWI has grown steadily since additions to the Osage facility over the past few years have increased the plant size to 65,000 square feet. Pachel has even expanded into Montana, acquiring two cabinet manufacturing companies in Billings. SWI now employs a crew of 80 and produces 80-90 custom and semi-custom cabinets a day.
After the last few years of steady growth, Pachel and his top managers started considering opportunities for improvements in efficiency and operations. We’re delighted they reached out to Enterprise Minnesota to help develop specific strategies.
To get started, SWI’s leadership team sat down with Enterprise Minnesota business consultants Bill Martinson and Eric Blaha to discuss the Osage plant’s layout. Eric led a 10-person team of SWI employees through a paper doll exercise that helped identify problem areas and led to possible solutions.
Though the SWI team was a bit skeptical about the paper dolls, the process helped participants envision short- and long-term layout changes. “We rearranged all the equipment in that space to support better flow and optimize equipment and employee utilization,” Blaha says. Based on that exercise they’ve already moved a few pieces of equipment. Long-term plans will be adopted later this year.
SWI’s improvement efforts didn’t stop there. Staff from every area of the operation also helped collect and analyze data on how many steps it took to process raw materials to finished goods. They simulated the steps involved in processing, which led to “shocking data about wasted motion and transportation” Blaha says. That information also helped guide layout changes.
The workflow improvements are designed in part to help SWI hit “just in time” targets for its cabinets. Contractors don’t want them early, and manufacturers don’t want to store them, so optimum flow of assembly and shipping helps both.
Learn more about SWI Interiors in the current issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine®.
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