Leaner means better for furniture manufacturers


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Posted: 5/1/2005


Lean production may help eliminate lean times for Mississippi's furniture manufacturers.

Lean production is an engineering term for the ability to produce more with less and scientists in Mississippi State University's Institute of Furniture Manufacturing and Management are helping implement lean systems in the state's furniture manufacturing plants.

Elimination of waste—especially in the areas of time and materials—is the key component of lean manufacturing. Conversion to a lean system begins with an analysis of the number of steps it take to produce furniture components. Those steps are then consolidated to create a smoother flow through an assembly-line approach.

"Lean production uses cellular manufacturing for one-piece flow wherever possible in the system,” said Steve Hunter, associate professor in the Department of Forest Products. "Lean production uses less of everything when compared to the archaic functional manufacturing system—less labor effort, less manufacturing space, less investment in tools, and less design engineering hours to develop a new product.”

Hunter and Duane Motsenbocker, interim director in MSU's Industrial Outreach, have implemented lean production in 24 of Mississippi's 200 furniture manufacturing plants. Furniture manufacturers provide 27,000 jobs and contribute $4.1 billion to Mississippi's economy. The state produces about 70 percent of the nation's upholstered furniture.

Judy Dunaway, president of Airline Manufacturing Company, has adopted lean processes in her Columbus wood furniture component manufacturing facility, successfully reducing inventory, improving cash flow, decreasing costs, cutting lead times and making the overall operation more flexible.

"We first selected one of our most frequently manufactured components and tracked every movement of that component,” Dunaway said. "We discovered it took us five days to produce 1,000 parts and each part traveled more than 50 man-miles in the process.”

On the first run with the new lean processes, the company produced 1,000 parts in three-and-a-half hours.

"That was our first success story and there have been many since,” Dunaway said.

The implementation of lean production typically means keeping less than half the regularly needed inventory on-hand. In addition, the implementation and adoption of lean production by a manufacturer results in better quality because of fewer defects.

Hassell Franklin, founder, president and chief executive officer of the Houston-based Franklin Corporation has implemented lean processes throughout his upholstered furniture manufacturing facility.

"The implementation of lean principles has given us a productivity gain of 35 percent,” Franklin said. "With MSU's help, we are refining our mechanism assembly processes. We want to take out all the wasted motion and streamline the process.”

MSU's Institute of Furniture Manufacturing and Management is an interdisciplinary unit that includes the College of Forest Resources, Forest and Wildlife Research Center, College of Business and Industry, Bagley College of Engineering, College of Architecture and the MSU Extension Service.

"The Institute applies research that aids in the design, production, marketing, and distribution of high quality products that meet the changing needs of families and businesses here and abroad,” Hunter said. "It is estimated that furniture research at Mississippi State University is saving the state's manufacturers around $3 million each year.”

The Institute, in cooperation with the Division of Academic Outreach and Continuing Education, offers a Lean Production Certificate program to train furniture manufacturers in the process.

"If a company wants to compete in today's marketplace, lean manufacturing is the key,” Hunter said. "Lean production system implementation is not turning a leaf, but rather it is growing a new tree.”

Forest Products