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Lean Manufacturing at Matthews Bronze


Matthews International Corporation (Pittsburgh, PA)

Matthews International Corporation, founded in 1850 and headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, designs, manufactures and markets custom-made products used to identify people, places, and events. The Company has three business segments: Bronze, Graphic Imaging and Marking Products. Matthews and its wholly owned subsidiaries have approximately 1,600 employees. The Bronze Division, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, is the company's largest division, with 675 employees and 52% of total revenue.

Principal products include cast bronze memorials and other memorialization products used primarily by cemeteries and funeral homes. The division also manufactures and markets cast bronze and aluminum architectural products used to identify or commemorate people, places and events. Matthews’ products are marketed worldwide.

Early in 1999, Matthews Bronze and Maynard entered into a partnership. Matthews Bronze had a desire to improve manufacturing productivity and begin a Lean journey through the use of Pull-Through (Lean) Manufacturing techniques. Maynard was in the process of leveraging 65 years of productivity management experience into a new service area: LeanLine™ Solutions. Since Matthews and Maynard are located just 10 minutes apart, the partnership proved to be an ideal opportunity for both companies. Matthews would begin their journey to Pull-Through Manufacturing with the assistance of Maynard, while the production environment at Matthews would provide an opportunity for Maynard to test and refine LeanLine™ products and services, and develop staff capabilities in the service area. According to Greg Slepecki, Manager of Manufacturing, North America, “The process has allowed us to reduce non-value-added functions and to concentrate on tasks that our customers will notice i.e. quality, delivery, and value for their dollar”. Two examples of Matthews’ progress are highlighted in this article.

Photopolymer

Matthews uses a photopolymer setup process to produce patterns for certain cast bronze products. The demand for this process is growing, due to the increased level of quality it produces, relative to the traditional process of hand-set lettering. Since this process was a production bottleneck, it was selected as a pilot area for Pull-Through Manufacturing. The photopolymer project began with an analysis of production methods. Since the photopolymer exposure machine was identified as the bottleneck operation, this process underwent extensive methods study and redesign. Exposure machine uptime was significantly increased by eliminating wasteful steps from the process. A pull system was designed and introduced to reduce work-in-process inventory and production response time. Key quality criteria were identified and visual quality sheets were introduced. As a result of these improvements, Matthews has realized the following improvements in the photopolymer operation:

  • 61% increase in throughput
  • 69% reduction in production response time
  • 300% increase in value-added ratio
  • 75% reduction in defective pieces

Final Inspection and Shipping

The photopolymer operation was selected as the initial project due to the high priority bottleneck condition. After implementation of the improvements in this area, the decision was made to focus improvement efforts on the processes closest to the customer, then work backward through the operation. These processes are final inspection, packaging, and shipping.

In order to better understand and prioritize the improvement efforts, a value-stream map was completed. The value-stream map provided an overall view of the flow of both the product, and the information used to manufacture the product. The map also provided a prioritized list of improvement opportunities, not only in the final inspection, packaging, and shipping areas, but also throughout the plant.

In final inspection, packaging, and shipping, the following areas of opportunity were identified:

  • move from “push” production, to “pull-through” production
  • shorten production response time
  • standardized methods
  • improve labor utilization
  • reduce work-in-process (WIP) inventory
  • reduce rework and scrap
  • improve raw materials management
  • improve the workplace and culture through “5-S” implementation

Each of these opportunities could be addressed through pull-through manufacturing techniques. A team was formed, including Matthews’ management and production staff, and Maynard consultants.

The team developed engineered work standards, a process storyboard, and Lean measures on a scorecard to benchmark the opportunity for the new line. Expectations for the Lean measures upon implementation of the new cell include:

  • 90% reduction in production response time
  • 800% increase in value-added ratio
  • 7% cost reduction
  • 88% increase in value-added space utilization
  • 50% reduction in WIP inventory

Line design calculations for the new cell ensure the line will ‘beat’ to a takt time based on customer demand. Kanban sizes were calculated and visual signals put in place so work could be pulled through the cell. Since areas just prior to the cell are not yet Lean, loading rules were developed for the cell to ensure smooth flow. A simulation model was developed to insure that the new line design would run smoothly. In order to build quality into each process, visual quality sheets were developed for each workstation showing the key quality points at each process.

As the line design was being finalized, Maynard consultants worked with the Matthews team to implement 5-S (Sort & Remove, Shine & Inspect, Set Locations & Visual Cues, System-a-tize, and Stay the Course) to ensure a safe, orderly, and clean work environment.

The final inspection, packaging, and shipping project is in its early stages. In the coming weeks, operators will be trained in the operation of the cell, machinery will be moved, buffers designed, and the newly designed line will be started. Following implementation of this cell, Matthews plans to use the value stream map to identify the next project area, thus continuing to implement Lean concepts back through the process.

Matthews' efforts on their Lean journey have certainly not been without stumbling blocks. Already, lessons have been learned regarding the high level of continuous commitment required, and the persistence necessary to make these efforts pay off. With these lessons learned, Matthews will continue to learn at each step along the way. But what is most important is that this company is willing to take risks in an effort to learn and grow. Employee involvement and management commitment continues to grow, and it is clear that Matthews will have many successes on their Lean journey.


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