Truth Hardware’s Lean Journey

The second speaker at the Lean seminar I described here was Jim Wheeler from Truth Hardware, a company with 1,000 employees in Owatonna, Minn. They make parts for window manufacurers like Andersen, Marvin and others.

They didn’t think Lean could work for them because they have 10,000 saleable part numbers, adding 10 new ones each day. How could they possibly do just-in-time manufacturing with that many unique part numbers?

Jim says Lean is not a cost-cutting strategy … it’s a growth strategy. In the current housing downturn, the productivity gains they have made have enabled Truth to maintain and even grow market share, even against competitors that have moved their manufacturing to China. When the housing market comes back, Truth will be poised for significant growth. And because they have eliminated waste, they will be able to add capacity without huge investments in additional facilities or equipment.

Truth holds one week-long Kaizen event per month. Instead of analyzing to death, they say getting things 60 percent right is good enough. They develop prototypes, then make the changes and continually iterate. Jim says “Don’t just think about it, do it and then find out what the problems are, so you can fix them.”

My kind of guy.

Jim also described a literal breakthrough Truth achieved through one of its Kaizen events. I may be getting some of the details wrong, but in essence they had one big piece of equipment that was used for metal fabrication, and after that step the parts would be loaded into bins and put on a fork lift to be hauled through the plant to the painting and finishing area. As they looked at the process, they realized that the finishing area was just on the other side of the wall from the fabrication equipment…so they cut a hole in the wall to enable the parts to flow through to be painted.

This saved hours from the start-to-finish process, and also eliminated the need for storage bins to hold the half-done parts waiting to be painted.

Through Jim’s presentation, I learned something else about system engineering that I thought was really interesting: in the airplane cockpit all of the instruments are arranged so that if all of the indicators point straight up, it’s normal. Then you can tell at a glance when something is wrong, because the abnormal readings really stand out.

Jim Wheeler is a Lean evangelist in much the same way as I’m a social media evangelist. Here was his list of recommended reading:

If you want to reach Jim, based on what I heard in this seminar, I’m sure he’d be glad to share his experience.

How about you? Have you looked at your work to see what delays are introduced into your processes, that don’t add value from your customers’ perspectives? What prototypes can you develop easily (perhaps using free social media tools) to eliminate both wasted effort and wasted time?