Steelcase, Inc. | Athens, Alabama

Company Information:
Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase, Inc. is the world’s largest manufacturer of office equipment. Established in 1979, its Athens facility has approximately 460 employees.

The plant wanted to improve its assembly process for Avenir panels, which are partitions for people who share offices. Throughput time, from raw materials at their core steel supermarket to final assembly, took 10-12 hours. The plant desired a lead time of only four hours. They also experienced excess work-in-process (WIP) both pre- and post-paint. 60 racks were used to hold materials, which cluttered the workspace at an unnecessary cost. The workers were also traveling too much distance from the supermarket to the paint line, creating a lot of manufacturing waste. As a result, their current process and layout could not support takt; they weren’t producing fast enough to meet their demand rate.

Center Assistance:
Facilitators Nic Loyd and Michael McNairy from UAH-ATN which is located in the UAHuntsville Center for Management & Economic Research (UAH-CMER)  assisted a team of Steelcase employees in performing a Kaizen event over the span of five days. During the event, the team documented the current process, brainstormed wastes in the current process, formulated improvements to eliminate the waste and designed a new process.

Before, all Steelcase products ran through one of two shared paint lines; the new process allowed for one mini-paint line (previously used for rework) to be dedicated to the Avenir products. The team moved the core steel supermarket to make it closer to the paint line, and the workers did not hang the steel until it was ready to be painted. The team designed a 13-rack max system so there would never be more than 13 racks of WIP at any given time between the Avenir core steel supermarket and final assembly.

The new system resulted in a 51.7% reduction in square footage used, from 13,863 to 6,695 feet. This reduced travel from 3,490 feet to 1,100 feet, a 68.4% reduction. The Lean implementation also decreased throughput time to 2-2.5 hours, an 80% improvement, and beating the company’s goal of four hours. There was also a major reduction in the excessive WIP. Instead of using 60 racks at a cost of $8,016 per day, only 13 racks were used in the new process, a cost of only $1,408 per day.

“The team did a great job coming up with this new system. The reduced WIP will lower throughput, allowing us to respond faster to customers, and it reduces the amount of inventory we keep in the plant. Everyone will win.”
Ray Kulmer, Steelcase Avenir Superintendent

“This was an interesting project to attack. The guys on the team did a lot of scheming and thinking outside the box to come up with some key details to make this system work. It should do a lot toward getting their throughput time in the area down where it needs to be.” – Nic Loyd, UAH-ATN