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Lean—Not Just Grandpa's Optimization Tool

By Christine Torres

Lean programs are helping businesses thrive.

Though it's responsible for causing millions of people to recline comfortably, La-Z-Boy is far from sitting down. The U.S. furniture company recently opened its 350th store and is continually investing in modern manufacturing. In spring, La-Z-Boy plans to open an innovation center that will feature a model shop, tech center, and testing and 3D printing labs. Recently, La-Z-Boy’s senior vice president Darrell Edwards spoke about the company’s successes and preparations for future challenges in manufacturing. He credited a lean foundation as the company keeps pace with consumer demands. While manufacturing efficiency is a goal, La-Z-Boy’s factories lean plans also include safety.

Present Day Lean

Even though lean is more than 70 years old, it's far from just being grandpa's optimization tool. It’s helping businesses evolve and retain vitality. With ever-changing consumer demands, manufacturers must stay innovative and responsive. Technology has had influence. For La-Z-Boy, a product that started out as a wood-slat porch chair with a simple reclining mechanism now comes in a variety of upholstery and features, including embedded heat massagers, rechargeable batteries, and USB port stations.

“We have developed a lot of lean expertise in our business, and I’m very proud of that. Our team has done a great job,” Edwards told Assembly magazine. “If you build a foundation of fairly sophisticated lean processes in the beginning, then, when something new comes along from our R&D team, you can easily adapt on the assembly line. If the foundation is strong, you only need to tweak one component of a very large process that you’ve put in place.”

The future of business relies on running lean programs and safety.

In a new lean effort, La-Z-Boy’s $26 million investment in its Dayton assembly plant will allow the company’s product engineers and designers to be able to work alongside manufacturing engineers for prototype testing, Edwards said. While accomplishing success in manufacturing efficiency, La-Z-Boy’s factories lean plans prove workers can be kept safe while maximizing production. Last year, the company’s records for safety were set at three plants, with one plant exceeding 10 million hours without a lost time accident.

Lean Future

Demands for products that are high-quality, delivered fast, and at a good price will only increase in the future. Edwards says he foresees a change in the amount of knowledge needed to run an integrated supply chain: from order entry, procurement, sales and operations planning, to manufacturing, distribution and logistics. Manufacturing companies are also realizing the need for better collaboration between safety and production workers. The roles of safety professionals and lean leaders are merging. Another lean tactic is to create a change in a process to do away with a hazard or to reduce the frequency of dangerous tasks in the workplace. This not only improves safety but also improves productivity.

When businesses recognize the impacts of lean on safety, greater changes and accomplishments can be made. Discover opportunities for improvement in lean and safety at the same time. Perform routine “waste walks” to focus on where workplace hazards lie and allow managers to focus attention on improving areas of most concern.

Address Productivity in Safety

Thinking lean helps simplify safety compliance and best practices. Graphic Products has a variety of industry best practice educational resources and solutions. Learn how visual communication and a visual system can explain important details, improve productivity, reduce unnecessary material handling, and more in a free guide on Visual Workplace—Visual Management. Create lasting visual solutions with DuraLabel printers and supplies. For free samples or questions about custom services, call: 888.326.9244.

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