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2019 Gemba Tours - Saskatoon, SK

This year’s LPAS Gemba Tour Event took place in Saskatoon. Our group of Lean practitioners, representing the healthcare, government and manufacturing sectors, had the privilege of experiencing, first-hand, just what can be accomplished with training, hard work, persistence and a commitment to continuous improvement. All three of our tour sites might be considered high-mix, low-volume manufacturers. But that’s where the similarity ends. Each provides their customers with highly individualized and, in most cases, one-off products and services. The materials used, and subsequently the supply chains are completely dissimilar. No widget builders here!

We began the day at Superior Cabinets where our hosts, Michael Kuchar, Continuous Improvement Leader and Brent Boechler, Plant Manager, shared a short presentation describing the chronology of Superior’s Lean journey to this point. Over a five-year period, operator lead and implemented quick kaizen improvements grew from just 20, in the first year, to 1000 in the fifth year. To help sustain these gains a simple, yet highly visual, point of use, system of SOP’s is deployed.

On the production floor several key factors became apparent:

1. A distinct lack of raw materials inventory. Sixty turns/year in most cases, made possible through advanced strategic supplier alliances. Making possible, for instance, 2-3 deliveries per day from local suppliers.

2. A highly visual daily production plan is posted and updated on the production floor.

3. Flow – In most cases each order, whether a complete project or a single cabinet, is processed, in FIFO sequence through the plant, from raw materials, to being palletized and finally loaded on a delivery truck.

4. A significant focus on people development. Two Lean Black Belts, six Green Belts and 99% of team members receiving, internally developed, basic Lean training. An internal designed Lean mentorship program is also under development.

Next, we visited International Road Dynamics (IRD) where Trevor O’Byrne, Manufacturing Services Manager and Lean Specialist, welcomed the group and shared a short overview of who IRD is, and what products and services they provide to customers world-wide. We also learned about IRD’s journey, so far, towards operational excellence and how Lean has helped expand both internal and external capabilities.

The actual gemba tour illustrated just how prevalent continuous improvement thinking is throughout the company.

1. We heard about the significant reductions to production area inventory levels at every stage of the manufacturing process, from raw materials to finished goods. With the obvious benefits to increased operating capital and freeing up valuable floor space.

2. Huddle boards were in use in multiple departments. Interestingly, these are not standardized, but rather, individualized to match the requirements and preferences of the users.