Jay Multanen, project manager, and his team at Best Bath became intrigued with lean manufacturing after noticing the momentum it was gaining throughout industry. “After hearing about all of the success with several companies, including Toyota and our friends that are members of ACMA, our curiosity sparked us to pay attention,” says Multanen.

The main goal of lean manufacturing is to maximize customer value by responding to the customer’s demands as quickly as possible without creating wastes in the process. “There are several types of wastes and it is my duty to watch and evaluate my team to determine if we are producing wastes,” says Multanen. According to Taiichi Ohno, a Japanese businessman known as one of the founding fathers of lean manufacturing, the seven wastes are defined as follows:

  • Over production – production ahead of demand
  • Over processing – the act of doing extra, non-value adding steps
  • Motion – people or equipment moving more than is required
  • Transport – moving products that are not actually required to perform the processing
  • Waiting – time wasted while waiting for the next production step
  • Defects – extra effort involved in fixing and checking for defects
  • Inventory – all products, work in progress and finished products that have not been processed

Best Bath Systems determines wastes using Ohno circles – a circle or a spot on the production floor where managers stand to observe and document any obvious wastes, thereby revealing where the production system has failed. An example of waste caught by the company involves Best Bath’s universal WaterStopper kit, which includes both small and large end caps. It is designed to go with both shower models the company manufactures, but not all clients require the whole kit. The shipping manager realized the company was sending out the kit to a particular customer, rather than shipping the specific piece it required.

“So we were wasting that material,” says Multanen. “Whenever we identify a waste, I go through a process … to find the root of the problem.” The customer ordered the universal kit because the salesperson didn’t realize the company only needed one part. “The root cause here was that we need to do a better job training our salespeople about our products.”

Employee involvement is a critical component in lean manufacturing. Best Bath Systems uses “lean walk-arounds” to ensure employees are on the same page. Each department has a whiteboard – called a scoreboard within the company – to chart measurables, write ideas for cutting down on additional steps and display overall improvements. “These charts are out in the open for everyone to see,” says Multanen. “Once a week each department comes together to discuss the various issues they might have seen within their department or within other departments.” Then employees brainstorm ideas to make their jobs easier, thus improving morale and fostering teamwork.