Masco - Builder Cabinet Group, Culpeper, Va.
Employees: 292, Non-union
Total Square Footage: 270,000
Primary Product/market: Finished cabinets
Achievements: Five-day standard lead time; $373,343 savings from kaizen activities in 2008; iSixSigma.com Top 10 Six Sigma Best Places to Work in 2008
See the other winners of IW's 2009 Best Plants award and find out how they made the top ten.
With a couple quick shots of hot glue and the rapid-fire succession of a nail gun, a cabinet moves down the final-assembly line at this Masco plant in northern Virginia en route to a loading dock where a truck trailer awaits.
Workers are building the Merillat-brand cabinets in a process that the Masco Builder Cabinet Group - Culpeper Assembly Plant calls "one kitchen at a time," or KAAT. The Culpeper, Va., facility used to assemble the cabinets in batches, stocking large inventories of base and wall units into finished-goods inventory. But today the plant builds a customer's kitchen cabinets in sequence and loads the product directly onto the truck.
The process has helped the plant cut its lead time on standard finished cabinets from 15 days to five days, a major advantage for the facility, says Taylor Leonard, the plant's continuous-improvement coordinator. "Our closest competitor is two weeks minimum," he says. The process also has added flexibility to the plant so it can adjust inventory to meet demand, says Stephen Wittig, vice president of the Masco Production System and Six Sigma.
Another major improvement was the creation of a paint line. Previously, all components arrived at the plant prefinished, but in 2005 the company expanded the building to include a finishing hang line and components processing area. This enabled the facility to finish-to-order up to 50% of cabinet parts and reduce the amount of finished inventory in the warehouse.
In some sense, the plant also bases its production system on one golf ball at a time. The plant utilizes cylindrical tubes, similar to what you would see in a lottery drawing, filled with color-coded golf balls to represent an empty parts cart. This tells parts pullers in the distribution center they need to stock a cart that carries components, such as doors or frames.
The system is used in conjunction with a box -- called heijunka in lean terms -- where pick sheets are slotted and separated by rows and columns that correspond with a particular part and work cell. The sheets tell the parts puller which work cells need a particular component and are pulled in sequential build order. After the parts pullers fill their cart, they take the components to the point of use in one of the nine KAAT cells.
KAAT (kitchen at a time) cell team member Barbara Lee drills a cabinet in preparation for door installation at Masco's Culpeper, Va., plant.
This smooth flow of materials to the assembly lines, where workers produce at a takt time of 52 seconds, is part of an overall lean strategy that dates back to 1998 and has helped the plant pull through the housing downturn. "As a plant, it (the downturn) has made us better," says Leonard. "It put a sense of urgency into our processes -- quality, customer demand, efficiency."
While the Cabinet Group's sales volume decreased significantly over the past three years because of lower new-home construction, its market share rose. Wittig attributes that partly to the Culpeper plant's alignment with the "right customers," which includes major home builders such as Pulte Homes -- a company that made several major acquisitions over the years.
Masco's Quick-Hit Kaizens
Cabinet Group extends continuous-improvement events by aiming for more incremental gains.
In 2009 the Masco Builder Cabinet Group's Culpeper, Va., assembly plant implemented what it calls "quick kaizens." These small-group improvement activities have helped the builder of Merillat-brand cabinets stay competitive in the down housing market.
The quick kaizen program began as a way to leverage the training and knowledge gained by participants in full kaizen events. As mandated by the corporate level, the plant is required to conduct at least 10 kaizen events per year but regularly exceeds that number, performing 34 in 2008. Standard kaizen events must last three or more days and require three to four hours of training.
But a quick kaizen can be much shorter, maybe a couple of days and typically with fewer participants, says Taylor Leonard, the plant's continuous improvement coordinator. The plant conducts about three to four quick kaizens a month. Oftentimes the events are follow-ups to standard kaizens as a way to extend a continuous-improvement idea to another area of the plant.
"They're usually smaller in scope, and in a lot of cases it could be that we did this before on another production line, and we want to copy our improvements in another area," Leonard says.
For instance, one quick kaizen in the final assembly area resulted in the implementation of a mistake-proofing, or poka yoke, sensor that ensures drilling specifications for the hinges are correct, says team leader Danny McPeak.
Between January and August 2009 the plant recorded 17 quick kaizen events.