Lean Foundations: An Interview with States Industries

October 7, 2015 by Jasmine Agnor

Recently I had the chance to connect with two students who attended OMEP’s four-part Lean Fundamentals course, led by Kristi Smith and Gary Conner. Students Dani and Amanda were sent to the class by their Plant Manager, Donnie Graves of States Industries.

Working at States Industries

States Industries is a large Hardwood Plywood panel company located in Eugene, Oregon that creates a wide variety of products, from furniture to office accessories. This particular group is in the Components decision of the company, running the contract shop portion of the business. 45 employees work in this department. They work on two 10 hour shifts. Everyone has Fridays off.

Employee Dani says, “At the time I started at States it was just a job. But I came in and saw the process at States. I got interested in becoming a leader and have been in Components for over two years now. The plant is clean and I like the way things are run. I love working here!”

Amanda has been at States Component Division for over 3 years. “I didn’t expect to stay that long. I love the components department. Everything runs smoothly.”

What We’ve Learned

Dani and Amanda are in the process of making changes based on what they learned in the class. “For me personally,” says Amanda, “I’ve been given a better understanding of why we do lean at States. The class opens your eyes to see things in a new way. “

Dani says, “ it validates the processes that we have in place now. Understanding why we do things, not just, ‘well, that the way it’s done.’”

Plant Manager Donnie clarified: “We want to look at continuous improvement every day. Not just for one specific event.”

No WIP

Plant Manager Donnie Graves has been in the industry for the past 20 years and has always believed in lean principles. “It just makes sense to work with lean,” he says.

As a small shop, States Component Division processes a huge amount of material on a daily basis. “It’s critical we don’t have Work In Progress (WIP.) My policy is, if we cut it we ship it.”

“Lean Fundamentals course taught me about the basics of short processes, inventory control, and WIP control.  You can see it right away when you don’t practice lean principles. When a process begins to fail you have a building full of WIP and it takes forever to get it out.”

Working to Improve Lead Times

One of the processes Donnie is most proud of is their heat transfer process. It’s taken them 6 months to change the existing process into one that’s effective. First, they tried to use regular irons that you’d use at home. They worked, but were slow. Next, they bought a pancake grill, turned it upside down and used that. The bigger footprint helped, but it was an incremental improvement.

Donnie invited more people in to solve the problem, broadcasting to the entire division –who has an idea they want to try? The maintenance staff, engineers, drafting/CAD folks all took a shot at it. Eventually, the maintenance team built a special press to transfer the heat quickly. “This press saved us a tremendous amount of time. What used to take 6 min per piece now it takes about 1 min.”

Flexibility

Being lean means being flexible, Donnie reminded me several times. At States, they live this concept every day, as 60% of their employees are fully cross-trained.
“If I had one thing to say, it would be this: people and product flow at the same rate. As long as that flow happens, you don’t have WIP. To make that flow happen, cross training is a must.”

Donnie says they have many more continuous improvement projects in the works, and are looking forward to sending more students to the next Lean course.

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