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Lean Manufacturing and Environment

Steelcase and DuBois-JohnsonDiversey

Leaning the Supply Chain

Steelcase Inc., a global leader in the office furniture industry, began looking at different suppliers for solutions to ongoing quality control issues and for general process improvements to its paint pretreatment systems. DuBois, which is the Industrial Division of JohnsonDiversey, was one of the suppliers that the paint team looked at and that already had an established relationship with Steelcase’s wood plant. At the same time, Steelcase contacted DuBois regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Suppliers Network program to see if they were interested in a “lean and clean” assessment at their Ohio manufacturing facility.  DuBois considered both requests and responded with cost savings ideas for the Steelcase paint line. DuBois presented Steelcase with process improvements for the paint line that would conserve chemicals, energy, and water to reduce costs and that would also provide environmental impact reduction. With its initiative to provide both cost savings and environmental benefits, DuBois was awarded a trial in a production washer at one of Steelcase’s manufacturing plants in Grand Rapids, Michigan to demonstrate their process. This trial was supposed to only last six weeks, but was extended to six months, producing great results for Steelcase.

During the trial, DuBois kept track of labor, how much water was used, and the cost savings that accrued while addressing the production issues. DuBois also utilized a waste inventory system. After five months, Steelcase was experiencing savings in several different areas. The new process led to energy savings of a 60 percent reduction in the BTUs required. Water usage was reduced by 80 percent and the new innovative chemistry used in the process produced 20 to 30 percent less volume. Due to a reduction in discharges, the waste stream was cut by 85 to 95 percent. Steelcase also found that DuBois’ process offered an over 50 percent reduction in the labor used to maintain the washer.

Following the success of the trial, Steelcase awarded DuBois a sole supplier position in the washer, and then they were added to three more lines. Currently, DuBois is working to move to other lines within Steelcase. As they move outward in the company, they continue to track their processes, follow their methodology, and follow up on all of the savings. DuBois is also conducting pre-assessments to establish a baseline for the production process to evaluate and predict an impact.

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Challenges with Lean and Environment

DuBois met some resistance when trying to introduce its new methods to the paint line, including concerns that quality would be affected and due to the fact that the paint team had heard big promises in the past that weren’t fulfilled. Going into the project, DuBois faced less risk because they introduced their process to a production line that was going to be shut down. They were also instructed not to go too far outside of the box, and started by adding one process at a time rather than introducing multiple changes at once. At the start of the project, some Steelcase workers were focused on environmental efforts while others were mainly focused on the production aspects of the paint line, but there were not many people exploring how the paint line could be run in a manner that produced excellent quality and provided environmental benefits at the same time.

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Growth Through Lean

DuBois already implements Lean manufacturing and green initiatives throughout its company, and coming to Steelcase, it utilized process mapping to discover which manufacturing processes they could impact. The team noticed that every time they looked at the map they were able to find a new, tangible reduction that could be implemented. Most of DuBois’ activity has occurred in the furniture industry, but the company is actively working to break into other industries. DuBois now provides its products and services for three lines at Steelcase, with startups scheduled for Alabama with three lines and Atlanta, Georgia for two lines.

Some may wonder why DuBois is searching for ways for their customers to save money on the chemicals and other materials they provide to them, particularly because this means that DuBois is not necessarily making as much profit as they would have before the reductions. DuBois’ response is that they are looking at the long term perspective rather than the short term scenario. They are committed to doing the right thing for their customers regardless of if it reduces their short term revenue, because in the long run, saving their customers money will provide greater benefits, including long term client relationships and acquiring business from their competitors. DuBois is motivated by the idea that they face a tremendous business opportunity for being the first chemical provider to purposefully run a Lean production line the way it should be done: through a method that offers both cost and environmental incentives for their clients.

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