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Monroe Truck Equipment Maps

When Chris Holverson first heard about continuous improvement in manufacturing, he thought it was only for repetitive manufacturing and didn't apply to the job shop where he worked as a production supervisor.

But he had some ideas for improving efficiency in the shop, Monroe Snow and Ice Control, which is a division of Monroe Truck Equipment (MTE), located in Monroe, Wisconsin. Monroe Snow and Ice is a modified job shop, manufacturing and installing both standard and build-to-order snow and ice removal equipment, such as plows, scrapers, sanders, tailgate spreaders, and hitches, plus the computers that run the equipment.

"We were having problems with lead times and maintaining on-time delivery," Holverson explains. One major cause was the difficulty in tracking the large numbers of parts that were going through the shop. All of the shop's orders or "jobs" are set up using a manufacturing system that requires a "job card" to be printed for every part used for a job.

"We'd open as many as 1,000 job cards on average per day," Holverson explains. "When you have those kinds of numbers going, it's difficult to keep track of everything."

But he thought the root cause of the problem was that the shop was opening jobs for up to 30 days in advance. "If you add up the number of jobs going in a 30- day period-it could be several hundred," he says. "To keep track of all that is a monumental task."

Holverson guessed that, by shrinking their work order window down to a few days instead of 30 days, the shop wouldn't have as many jobs or parts to keep track of. He just wasn't sure how to do it.

Then he started reading about continuous improvement.

"When I first read the book, "Lean Thinking," I was so excited I was like a little kid at Christmas," Holverson said.

Streamlining the Process

Last fall, Holverson attended WMEP's Value Stream Mapping workshop. Armed with this knowledge and some help from WMEP manufacturing specialists Jim Houge and Jim Hensch, the company started analyzing its operations and flow. They selected some specific orders (jobs) that were representative of about 80% of their work, and value stream mapped those jobs. From the mapping process, they developed a matrix that pointed out the problem areas needing improvement.

"We found that most of our problems lie in inadequate communications, and we're taking steps to improve that," Holverson says, adding that they've already seen reductions in their manufacturing lead times.

In addition, they shrank their work order window, which greatly reduced the number of jobs in process at one time from 359 to 15-18. Then they reduced their on floor nventory by ordering parts only as they needed them, instead of using the shop's "min/max" system that automatically reordered parts when the inventory dropped. "That resulted in about a $750,000 reduction in inventory just in our area," Holverson says.

They also "kit" the jobs now for the welders, grouping all the job parts together, so the welders don't have to hunt around the shop for something they need.

Beyond the Shop Floor

Because of the reduction in inventory and the process changes the team has made, the shop has gained nearly 30% of floor space. "We were able to move some of the truck equipment installation into the empty space here," says Holverson. "That was a good gain, because it means that there's another building here in town that we don't have to rent."

The company now has plans to expand their improvement effort into sales, marketing, and purchasing.

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WMEP provides technical expertise and hands-on implementation assistance to small and midsize manufacturing firms on advanced manufacturing technologies and business practices includinglean manufacturing, ISO, value chain management, and strategic repositioning services for manufacturers and manufacturing facilities located in Wisconsin.

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