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York Casket Case Study

York Casket

Maynard Gets Results: Maynard Helps York Casket Think Outside the Box.

The York Group is the second largest manufacturer of caskets in America, and is a leading manufacturer of all-wood caskets. Founded in 1892, the company was purchased in December 2001 by Pittsburgh-based Matthews International Corporation, a leading manufacturer of bronze memorials. York manufactures wood caskets in York, PA.

Like many manufacturers, York faces an increasingly competitive marketplace. To meet this competitive challenge, Matthews’s corporate management has challenged York to significantly improve division profitability.

For York to remain competitive and meet Matthews’ operating objectives, division management needed to reduce unit costs by 20 to 40 percent. To reach this goal, York partnered with H.B. Maynard and Company, Inc. for assistance in converting the wood casket plant to a Lean Continuous Flow operation.

“Given the scope of the project, I knew Maynard had the deep bench we would need to complete it quickly,” said Ron Cameron, York’s Director of Manufacturing. “They had the right depth of resources and expertise to assist us.”

With input from corporate management, York managers set goals for the Lean initiative, which included:

  • Reducing direct labor unit costs by 20 percent or more
  • Cutting production response time in half
  • Reducing inventory costs and product handling damage
  • Improving first pass quality
  • Improving plant space utilization
  • Building a continuous improvement culture

“The ultimate goal was to increase profitability while improving quality,” Cameron said. “We knew we had to make changes, or the business wouldn’t be able to move forward.”

Early in the planning process, York management agreed on Key Principles to help set the vision for their Lean conversion, and the future operating strategy for the plant. York’s key principles are:

  • Committed leadership
  • Continuous flow production
  • Quality built-in
  • Safe, orderly and clean workplace
  • Flexible cross-trained team
  • Visual workplace
  • Standard work methods
  • Continuous improvement

These principles were posted in conspicuous locations throughout the plant, and reviewed with supervisors and employees in a variety of settings. The intent was to begin to establish the operational culture for future plant operations.

York Gets the MOST out of Lean, by Design

The strategy recommended by Maynard was to first design a Lean Manufacturing system using sound industrial engineering tools, including value-stream analysis, work method design and work balancing using engineered time standards, and kanban-controlled work flow. This approach, in contrast to Kaizen events, would assure predictable, sustainable results.

York Casket To improve the operation presented a variety of challenges. A “push” production system would need to be converted to “pull”. Standard, documented work methods would be required. Continuous work flow and extensive worker cross-training were needed. Ultimately, a complete change would be required in everyone’s approach to their jobs, from the hourly worker to the plant manager.

“Maynard helped us move from batch to continuous flow,” Cameron said. “We established the vision for continuous flow by first studying how we work and then engineering a new method to improve both product quality and productivity.” The team decided that the best place to begin the Lean conversion was closest to the customer, in the casket trim area. Like the rest of the plant, this area suffered from many typical ailments of a non-Lean operation, including product quality problems, inconsistent work methods, batch production, excessive inventory and extensive non-value added work.

The York and Maynard team began by reviewing work methods and work flow in three of the plant’s casket trim processes: hardware, interior sew and interior trim. By comparing methods and processes, the team could identify variations in how the work was being performed, and develop Best Methods. Using the Maynard Operation Sequence Technique (MOST®), the new methods were measured and standard times determined. An improved work flow could then be designed.

York Casket For example, the plant’s trim department previously featured workstations located over a large area, with inconsistent workplace layouts. To correct this problem, the team first determined the best methods and standard times to complete the work. With this information, a trim assembly line was designed to replace the individual trim benches.

In the hardware area, parts were spread over a large area, requiring workers to take unnecessary steps to retrieve parts. In addition, hardware assembly was located away from the main production line, furthering inefficiency. The hardware area was redesigned to directly feed parts to the production line.

In the interior sew department, the old batch process caused inefficient part flow, as parts were placed in the casket and then transported to the trim bench. Like the hardware department, interior sew was not integrated into the main production line. Best methods and standards were developed to better balance the work. To establish continuous flow, line loading rules, kanbans and visual signals were designed. The area layout was redesigned for integration into the main production line.

Making the Move

With the design complete, the team began to prepare for the ‘big move’. A revised layout was developed using computer-aided design. Puzzle pieces were used to brainstorm the best way to plot the new plant layout.

Prior to the move, the plant floor was marked with new equipment locations. All equipment required for the new layout were identified and coded on the CAD layout and the plant floor. Where required, material storage devices were purchased or built prior to the move. The layout was reviewed with all employees, and they were given the opportunity to provide additional input on workstation design.

The team worked together to develop a system for the move, using many 5-S principles. 5-S helps to create a Lean environment that is clean, orderly and safe, while opening the company culture to change and instilling new discipline. Motivating employees to embrace a culture of change figured to be a challenge, as York’s employees average 17 years of experience. But Cameron noted that the changes were received favorably by employees because of involvement and the focus on creating an improved workplace. “The key was communicating to employees as often as possible,” Cameron said. “It was important to get their feedback and empower them to create better ways to perform the work. We also used incentives, such as providing rewards for suggestions, which helped to motivate employees further.”

York Reaches Goals

This initiative provided an immediate impact on York’s productivity. Shortly after implementing the changes, York saw a 20 percent reduction in labor hours per casket in the post-finish area. Defects were reduced by 48%.

Production response time in the post-finish area was reduced dramatically, from three hours to one hour. In turn, the value added ratio increased from 19 percent to 50 percent. And with its workforce now tuned into continuous improvement, York expects future productivity gains.

The key differentiator between the Maynard approach and the typical approach to Lean is in the application of industrial engineering tools and design. With this truly engineered approach, the best solution is arrived at early, and trial and error is minimized.

The casket trim area is the first of four major project phases. Results in the second phase (casket assembly) promise to be even better than the first. “Sew and trim had already been improved by a lean project, so these results are even more impressive,” Cameron noted. “Now, thanks to Maynard’s help, we’ve been able to become even leaner. It was a great effort, and we expect it to pay off for many years to come.”


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