• Ūsful Glassworks – Boise – Lean Manufacturing

    Company Profile:

    Ūsful Glassworks was founded in 2009 to fulfill a social, environmentally friendly, and economic need in the community. Ūsful helps people with employment barriers build work maturity while recycling empty wine, beer, and liquor bottles into reusable glass products such as drinking glasses, lamps, carafes, lanterns and more. These environmentally friendly products allow Ūsful to provide valuable job and vocational training to those in the community who need a little help. Glassware purchasers, including local restaurants and businesses as well as gift stores as far away as North Carolina and New Hampshire, help out by buying Usful’s products. Community members help out by coming by regularly to drop off the kind of bottles that Ūsful needs.

    Usful Glassworks

    Usful Glassworks

    The products are proudly produced by job training participants that include the jobless and homeless, refugees, low income seniors, at-risk youth and those on probation and/or parole. Usful’s goal is to provide job and work ethics skills to people who want to enter, or reenter, the workforce after falling into difficult situations.

    Existing Situation:

    • Usful Glassworks was producing an average of 85 “pieces” per day with a high rate of scrap and defect.
    • Blake calculated that Usful needed to make at least 250 items a day to cover expenses, which are now paid for partly with donations.
    • Labor was mostly volunteer, part-time, and could be variable from day to day.
    • Orders were growing substantially, making it increasingly difficult to meet a production schedule.

    To respond to both increasing demand and meet the needs of a variable workforce, Ūsful Glassworks sought to:

    • Introduce automation in the production process to produce more than 500 “pieces” of quality glassware each day to meet demand and remove the element of human error and learning curve issues of volunteers.
    • Improve standard work processes to optimize the volunteer workforce.

    Executive Director, Carlyn Blake started looking for a machine that would help raise the company’s daily production from 100 items to 250 per day. She turned to TechHelp Enterprise Improvement Specialist, McKay Womack, for help. Faced with machinery costs that were way out of Carlyn’s price range, McKay turned to local resources and innovation to create a production solution that met Carlyn’s needs at an affordable price.


    To help Ūsful Glassworks achieve its goals, Womack recommended that Ūsful:

    • Research existing “Fire Polishing” technology to automate polishing and reduce the amount of labor required to produce a quality product.
    • Research, design and install process fixturing to remove human error from processes that cannot be fully automated.
    • Implement visual job aids to improve quality and dramatically reduce learning required by volunteers.
    • Implement Pull production to reduce waste in the value stream.

    Womack first steered Blake to a German company that makes a fire polisher that would produce the quality Blake needed. At $100,000, the machine was way out of Blake’s budget.  The team approached local engineering companies to build a machine from scratch but they doubted the functional requirements could be satisfactorily met given the budget. Womack approached his father, LaVerl, who had a lifetime of experience creating machinery on the fly for his company, Teton Peaks Log Homes.

    LaVerl used his experience to cobble together a fire polisher for only $26,000 that passed muster. Ūsful would be able to produce 1,000 pieces of glassware per day if needed. When the machine is fully operational, Blake will need to hire a dozen more paid part-time workers for ancillary jobs such as quality control, packaging, and finished goods.

    Survey Impact & Other Results:

    • Ūsful Glassworks invested $30,000 to install machinery that improved production capacity by 400% and product quality.
    • Ūsful Glassworks added an employee to meet increased demand and may add as many as 12 more employees as production heats up.
    • Ūsful Glassworks worked with local innovative resources to avoid an investment of $100,000 in machinery
    • Ūsful Glassworks implemented workforce practices that helped improve production processes, inventory control, quality and employee training.

    Client Quote:

    “I’m not an expert in manufacturing and I don’t have internally paid engineers to help solve manufacturing problems so I needed a resource that would truly listen to what we needed and then work with me on cost-effective solutions that would fit within my budget.  Thank goodness TechHelp was there to help us when we needed it.”

    Carlyn Blake, Executive Director of Ūsful Glassworks

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