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Featured Business: American Easel, Salem, Oregon; http://americaneasel.com/
It is not an uncommon story for passionate business owners to see a vision of the business they want to build but not have all of the skills needed to be successful in that vision. Over the last several years, business in our area has struggled in developing their processes and they continue to ask for lean 101. Kendall Lenhares, Director of Business Engagement at Incite has been tackling this problem using Sector Strategy dollars and through the creation of a sustainable training network.
American Easel owners Tammy Forcier and Kyle Sacre have a small Salem manufacturing business, making artist easels, display easels and cradled panels which are replacing artists’ stretched canvasses. The business is experiencing record sales and they’ve added an employee. In an economy in which one of every three manufacturing jobs disappeared from the Salem area since the recession began in December of 2007, theirs is a success story. How are they doing it?
American Easel’s owners knew they needed help as product orders grew and inefficiencies grew as well. They found out about the High Performance consortium of businesses sponsored by Incite Inc. (aka Job Growers Incorporated), the local workforce investment board. They discovered they could get help with the techniques of “lean” manufacturing through the consortium.
The heart of lean is kaizen, a Japanese term. “Kai” means to take a part, and “zen” a striving toward perfection. Kaizen is a process where a team of employees are brought together to focus on a problem that needs solving or a process that needs improving. Improvement is continual, and that’s the striving for perfection. Edward Deming, a statistician from the U.S., brought the idea to Japan after WW II when he struggled to get American manufacturers to listen to his ideas. Lean and kaizen principles were widely adopted by Japanese manufacturers and helped Japan rebuild after the war.
The owners of American Easel decided to take a chance on lean. They invited Oregon lean expert Gary Conner and a team of 15 experts, all volunteers, some from out of state, to conduct a “kaizen event” in their shop. Conner spent a week leading the owners and team members through hands-on problem solving exercises on the shop’s floor.
The team cleaned up the shop, using a kaizen technique called 5S, which means sorting, setting in order, sweeping, standardizing and sustaining the changes. Part of “setting in order” was revamping the entire inventory system. Truckloads of unneeded material were hauled away or recycled. Every operation in the manufacturing process was timed and analyzed, and the team looked for every possible kind of waste in the process, and eliminated it. The result at the end of the week was a streamlined and efficient production process that transformed the business.
American Easel joins many Salem area companies which have enlisted the principles of lean to bring more efficiency and less waste to their production processes. These include Modern Building Systems in Aumsville, Universal Forest Products in Woodburn, AM Equipment in Jefferson, Cabinet Door in Salem and Oregon Bath and Kitchen in Brooks. Lean is not just for manufacturers – Silverton Hospital has a Lean Coordinator whose job it is to find inefficient practices within control of the hospital. Lean experts are also applying lean principles to offices and other service-type work environments.
Conner isn’t timid about the ultimate effect of lean techniques. They’re saving American jobs, he says. Many of the companies who’ve used lean will say as much.
But Lenhares has taken this further. Realizing the need in the business community for streamlined efficiencies and training she began building a sustainable training network in the area. This concept uses subject matter experts to begin to train each other and build a continuous growing network of trainers as a resource to local businesses. To create subject matter experts, Incite has been investing in the community by sending key community leaders to lean or six sigma trainings with a requirement that the participants give back to the community for two years after completing the trainings. Currently there are six enrolled in green belt six sigma and five will go on to complete their black belt. This is a strong beginning to a growing core in sustainable trainings for efficient business practices in our area using sector strategies.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]