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Hytrol Conveyor employees talk about their company’s lean journey
It’s rare to find a company where the lean manufacturing culture is companywide, ingrained in every employee. But such is the case of Jonesboro, Arkansas-based Hytrol Conveyors, a designer and manufacturer of advanced conveyor systems. As a longtime contributor to Quality Digest Daily, I wanted to dig a little deeper and explore what makes Hytrol the exception to the rule.
I conducted a series of short Q&A interviews with employees from several levels of the organization to capture their individual and collective take on why lean manufacturing drives the entire culture. This is the first of a series of interviews.
Chris Glenn, vice president of manufacturing and engineering operations at Hytrol Conveyors, had experience in lean manufacturing prior to joining Hytrol. He told me where he first learned lean methods and about his role in Hytrol’s lean journey for the past seven years.
Thomas R. Cutler: What was your lean manufacturing experience prior to joining Hytrol?
Chris Glenn: My original training for lean came from the University of Kentucky in its joint program with Toyota. We had several weeks of training while I was employed by L.A. Darling Co. I then moved on to Delta Consolidated Industries, which was a part of a larger corporation called Danaher. Danaher had its own internal lean program known as Danaher Business Systems. There I trained on multiple techniques on all aspects of lean, even extending into front-office operations. I participated in multiple kaizen [events] around the country and had the opportunity to lead many myself.
Cutler: From your perspective, what was the state of Hytrol’s lean journey when you arrived?
Glenn: In 2007, Hytrol was in the middle of the transformation. By 2008 we had made significant strides and were well on our way to sustaining our continuous improvement efforts.
Cutler: How has continuous process improvement been embedded into all phases of manufacturing at Hytrol?
Glenn: As we improve our processes, other gaps or constraints are identified. With this method of continuous improvement throughout our facility, we have lean so embedded in our culture that all employees drive this down even to the smallest of tasks. Our toughest challenge was implementation in our front-office processes. With our methodology of breaking down processes using value stream maps, and eliminating some functional areas, we were able to revolutionize the way we process orders for production. Just as in our manufacturing areas, we have created cells according to the processes and functions to complete orders efficiently with the least amount of waste.
Cutler: What is the current state of lean at Hytrol, and would you describe it as customer-centric?
Glenn: Hytrol is always in a state of continuous improvement. Currently we’re in the middle of a major business transformation, so remaining flexible for customers’ needs is critical. The ability to change with our markets means that we’re moving all of our equipment and adding additional capital to become even more responsive. We want to be the manufacturer of choice for our customers; to do this we must be willing to adapt to all customers’ needs. The ability to change our processes and eliminate waste allows Hytrol be a highly customer-centric company.
Cutler: How has the lean manufacturing operation altered the current production capacity at Hytrol?
Glenn: Our lean manufacturing implementation allowed Hytrol to significantly increase capacity for customers. We have unmatched lead times within the industry and have been able to break all production records within the past two years.
Cutler: How are the goals or future state of Hytrol affected by lean manufacturing principles?
Glenn: Our future state will always be governed by lean principles. We are a manufacturer first and foremost, and use lean to guide business into new markets, where we can meet customers’ needs. Our most important concern is to service our integration partner network with a high-quality product delivered on time. Lean manufacturing at Hytrol means using common sense methodology to improve our profitability while delighting our customers.
I spoke with one of Hytrol’s shop-floor employees, Justin Cline, who is the safety coordinator. Cline had no lean manufacturing experience before joining the firm in 1999. He told me about his 15 years at Hytrol starting as a press operator and advancing to safety coordinator.
Cutler: What was your experience as a production employee during the initial phases of Hytrol’s lean journey?
Justin Cline: Confusion. Changing from mass production to lean manufacturing was hard to achieve, especially at the beginning without a good understanding of production flow throughout the plant.
Cutler: What were three major changes that you observed from the plant floor during the first year of lean?
Cline: First, every employee in the cell became goal-driven to maintain flow to meet takt time. Second, the reduced number of work processes within the cell. And finally, the ability to fix most manufacturing and process issues at the cell level.
Cutler: Share how your co-workers responded to the lean process—both favorably and unfavorably.
Cline: Unfavorably, I heard many co-workers say, “Lean is only good for a company manufacturing the same part on a day-to-day basis,” or “Lean won’t work here at Hytrol.” The more favorable responses included recognizing that mass production is much more complicated now, and it’s a whole lot easier to manufacture a conveyor without having to search for parts.
Cutler: Explain how your work with lean led you to the safety coordinator position at Hytrol.
Cline: While working as a press operator on the floor, Hytrol asked me to attend six months of lean training that gave me the knowledge and confidence to grow within the company.
Cutler: Looking back on the lean transformation at Hytrol, what was the most rewarding part of the job?
Cline: Seeing our employees take pride in and ownership of their work area.
Cutler: How important is safety to the effectiveness of a lean manufacturing program? Why?
Cline: Safety is very important. Every change has to be evaluated to ensure the safety of our employees and to ensure that the change complies with regulations. In most cases, once you apply lean principles to a work area, it takes away the majority of ergonomic hazards within its process. Lean manufacturing at Hytrol means putting knowledge behind common sense to create process flow.