Posted by William Mullane | December 5, 2016
Location: Boise, Ada County
Project: Lean Manufacturing and Product/Process Documentation
Ever since Western Trailers built what was quite possibly the first aluminum cattle trailer in the West back in 1969, the company’s reputation has been built on quality, innovation and service. As Western expanded into outside-frame flatbeds and grain hopper trailers, the company was determined to thoroughly understand the delicate balance between payload and profit. Along the way, the idea that “light weight pays” has become Western Trailers’ guiding philosophy – especially as the cost of fuel skyrockets. It’s made Western one of the nation’s leading trailer manufacturers, and given the company’s products the highest resale value of any trailer on the road today.
With no end in site to ever increasing fuel prices and global competition, managers at Western realized that the company would need to become even more efficient and innovative in order to survive. Driven by a spirit of continuous improvement & innovation, Western became interested in applying the principles of Lean Manufacturing to improve efficiency. As a member of the TechHelp Advisory Board, company owner, Jerry Whitehead, had become aware of Lean and knew how it could benefit the company.
A plant assessment revealed opportunities for process improvements that would reduce waste and create a more efficient and sustainable operation. TechHelp provided team development, value stream mapping and kaizen events to improve pre-production and production productivity at the trailer manufacturing facility. In order to jumpstart an enterprise-wide Lean Transformation at Western, TechHelp trained & certified all key manufacturing personnel using the Lean Enterprise Certification Program (LECP). Western’s key manufacturing personnel completed LECP certification training, testing & plant floor kaizen events.
Western identified and trained “Lean Champions” who were tasked with driving and sustaining an ongoing Lean transformation of all operations. This initiative has now expanded to Western’s Parts & Service Division driven almost exclusively by Western’s Lean Champions. Lean Thinking is now part of Western’s DNA.
Western continued to expand its Lean efforts by training supervisors in the “Training Within Industry” (TWI) methodology. TWI helped Western’s supervisors train more efficiently, created standard work, and improved job aids resulting in improved quality.
Western also created an internal “Order to Build” (OTB) team that was tasked with streamlining upstream sales, engineering, purchasing, and scheduling processes. The team was shocked when company founder & owner, Jerry Whitehead, asked the team to explore the possibility of developing a “stock trailer program”. Creation of such a program would be a huge departure from the company’s normal “build to order” model. At first glance, the stock trailer program seemed contrary to the team’s Lean objectives. Jerry, though, had received feedback from sales that there was a growing interest among customers for ready-built trailers. Market changes influenced by the economic downturn were changing customer purchasing tactics. Jerry had a gut feeling that the program could work. The ability of the OTB team to analyse, develop and implement the stock trailer program led to a string of successes for Western.
Western’s initial Lean efforts led to the following impact:
- 50 jobs retained
- $100,000 in cost savings attributed to productivity improvements
- $30,000 invested in information systems
- $35,000 invested in improving workforce practices
Western’s ongoing Lean transformation combined with the creation of the Stock Trailer Program turned the company into a more efficient enterprise with a more sustainable sales model. In addition to creating a new and steady sales stream, the Stock Trailer Program led to smoother production runs that generated shop floor savings and regular work for highly skilled employees. Quantifiable impact from these efforts included:
- $50,000 in savings from a reduction of rework
- 100 retained jobs
- $35.3 M in retained sales
- $3.5 M in cost savings resulting from productivity improvements across the enterprise
- $4 M invested in stock trailer program infrastructure
- $36,000 invested in building employee skills
Quote from Jerry