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Upholstery production, unlike the wood ‘push’ system, has typically ‘pulled’ orders through the operations, but the plants were laid out by sequential departments and lots of work-in-process inventory, extra indirect labor expenses, and missed schedules were the norm. The application of Lean Manufacturing here meant organizing the plant around cells that cluster the relevant workers to build the whole item as a team. The results are most impressive, with big reductions in throughput time, work-in-process inventory, and shop floor space. But again, not many companies have taken advantage of the cellular method. It is easier to cling to the old ways.

Making the Lean Conversion takes skill and fierce, almost religious, dedication at the top. It also costs money and should not be attempted timidly. Innovative manufacturing methods do not seem to fit furniture operations as well as expected. Dozens of companies have tried to implement Enterprise Resource Planning systems only to incur huge expenses and experience massive disruptions. And those few who got to the finish line found the payoff to be marginal. Likewise, efforts to reduce lead times have not resulted in sales increases. A reduction from three months to three weeks will make an impact, but cutting lead times to one or two weeks means nothing to the consumer who may be repainting the room and will refuse delivery that fast.

FURNITURE INDUSTRY WATCH REPORT SEPTEMBER 2009

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