Mixing Lean and ‘green’ delivers sustainability for manufacturer

Not every company is as environmentally focused as Canyon Creek Cabinet Company in Monroe, WA. With a five-year plan to reduce toxic waste emissions, a mission statement that requires environmental considerations in major business decisions, a full-time environmental manager on staff and an environmental management system in place, the company clearly places a high priority on reducing waste, p...

By John Vicklund, Washington Manufacturing Services August 15, 2007

Not every company is as environmentally focused as Canyon Creek Cabinet Company in Monroe, WA. With a five-year plan to reduce toxic waste emissions, a mission statement that requires environmental considerations in major business decisions, a full-time environmental manager on staff and an environmental management system in place, the company clearly places a high priority on reducing waste, pollution and exposure.

But the company acknowledged that there was plenty of room for immediate improvement on both operational and environmental fronts.

A wood cabinet manufacturing company, Canyon Creek has an extensive line of high-quality custom cabinetry and offers more than 4,500 combinations of door styles and finishes. The company sells primarily to designers and builders, a select dealer network and regional sales representatives. Sales grew from $1 million in 1981 to $85 million in 2005, with an additional 20% annual growth since then. The company employs 670 people.

With Canyon Creek’s huge growth, the company has faced the inevitable challenges of both operational inefficiencies as well as environmental impacts. Categorized as a large-quantity generator of hazardous waste in Washington state, Canyon Creek is permitted as a synthetic minor facility for volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. Reducing hazardous wastes and emissions is a high priority for environmental and regulatory reasons, especially so it can remain a synthetic minor facility and avoid having to get a Title V permit.

“We had implemented several Lean manufacturing projects over the last several years,” said John Earl, Canyon Creek’s Environmental Manager, “and had made great improvements throughout the plant. But we had never addressed wood waste generation or the finishing room, which clearly offered both Lean and environmental improvement opportunities. Plus, there was still plenty of room for improvement in our woodworking and milling areas.”

A pilot program offered by Washington Manufacturing Service (WMS), in partnership with the Washington State Department of Ecology, offered Canyon Creek the chance to tackle both challenges at once. Combining Lean manufacturing efficiencies with environmental considerations, the pilot brought in a team of specialists in both areas to work side-by-side with company personnel to implement immediate steps that had nearly instant impact. For WMS, an organization that works daily with Washington manufacturers to help them become more competitive, this program marked “the first time that we had closely partnered with a state agency to jointly deliver a project,” said program manager Krassimir Totev.

‘Woodchuckers’ and ‘Toxics’

Staff members from Canyon Creek, WMS, and Ecology set to work in two teams to address the woodworking and milling departments and the surface finishing department. The ‘Woodchuckers Team’ focused on one of its production lines that had not yet gone Lean. Earl and others knew that the line offered opportunities for reducing costs and non-hazardous solid wastes throughout its processes, from the receipt of raw materials through to finished product assembly. The ‘Toxics’ team addressed the coatings application in the finishing room, where cabinets are inspected, stained and coated. Here the team identified the waste in change outs as a key opportunity for improvement.

Both teams received Lean and environmental training, followed by value stream mapping and a series of kaizens to implement the strategies identified. As with all VSM workshops, the goal was to illustrate the department’s current state, identify the root causes of problems, quantify the resources lost and spent on non-value added activities and develop a future-state value stream map based on ideas for improvements with related implementation plans. The typical three-day VSM workshop was extended to five days to cover additional investigations into environmental wastes and costs via this mapping and analysis process.

“While the VSM process identifies the problems and develops solutions, the kaizens that followed were truly critical,” said Totev. “All too often, busy schedules prevent companies from moving ahead with implementation on their own. This pilot program was designed to overcome that obstacle and include kaizen events to implement the improvements. This way we knew the company would achieve the measurable results they needed.”

The Woodchuckers Team zeroed in on two processes with particularly large amounts of waste: the doweling process and the rip and cross-cut saw process. They quantified the cost for materials, labor and disposal of the solid waste in these processes and identified process changes that would improve the process flow, decrease total lead time and reduce the amount and cost of solid waste. Lean methods used in their kaizen events included 5S, layout changes to improve flow, pull systems to improve and control material flow and waste identification to cut back on wood waste. In addition, environmental cost accounting quantified waste and its associated costs.

“This program pointed out environmental wastes that we’d never looked at previously and really pushed us to act on them,” said Earl. “Including the environmental components into VSM and the kaizens was the best way to identify the waste and the opportunities for cost savings and waste reduction.”

The Toxics team addressed the causes and costs of process and environmental wastes associated with the finishing department’s stain booth, the first seal step, and the top-coat booth. The team examined and quantified material, disposal, and labor costs and ultimately selected kaizen projects that would achieve multiple objectives. The team addressed issues in the aqueous and solvent-based stain booths and application methods, pre-stain quality inspection and repair stations, and the current sealant and topcoat products. In addition to the standard Lean methods employed with the Woodchuckers Team, the Toxics team used environmental waste reduction, total cost analysis and material substitution to address hazardous waste streams.

Capital Investment Essentials

One key implementation plan involved an investment by Canyon Creek in equipment that would address many issues in the solvent-stain booth. “I’ve never had a capital expenditure request go through like this one did,” said Earl. “The numbers we quantified in the VSM workshop for eliminating changeover and increasing up time justified the expense for dedicated pumps immediately.”

This collective effort of Canyon Creek, Ecology and WMS to implement Lean methods while also addressing environmental wastes produced considerable operational, financial and environmental benefits. Some were evident almost immediately upon implementation; other benefits were quantified as the effects of the implementation projects were realized over time. Process improvements resulted in reductions in lead times, work-in-process, defects, overproduction, downtime, operator travel time and material loss and damage. These improvements also reduced the company’s hazardous wastes, solid wastes, wastewater discharges, energy consumption and VOC emissions so that Canyon Creek can avoid the need to address additional regulatory requirements.

According to Bill Weaver, CEO of Canyon Creek, “the project will pay for itself many times over.” The company has already realized substantial savings in total cost, time, material and environmental impact, including:

  • Increasing capacity by up to 70% before reaching the Title V threshold for VOCs

  • Increasing first-pass quality yield rates by as much as 12%

  • Reducing lead time in one product line by 24%

  • Eliminating one shift and reassigning all of those employees to other shifts.

    • The pilot’s grant funding reduced the cost for this assistance to Canyon Creek dramatically. The typical $30,000 cost, however, is more than offset by cost savings like those demonstrated by Canyon Creek. “Even without the grant funding, this project has clearly demonstrated the kind of results that could be achieved when you combine Lean process improvements with environmental considerations in waste reduction and costs,” said Totev. “We’re hoping to continue working with Ecology to address those opportunities for other companies throughout the state.”

      Rob Reuter, environmental engineer for the Department of Ecology and the lead Ecology member on the project team concurs. “Our results with Canyon Creek illustrate the economic benefits companies can achieve by addressing environmental and Lean issues equally,” he said. “Process improvements, as well as environmental considerations, intrinsically overlap in manufacturing plants, and linking them through this program has demonstrated the intended and unintended benefits that can derive from their joint implementation.”

      For Canyon Creek, the results were dramatic and immediate. Cost savings, environmental savings and process and waste improvements are just the start. “Employee morale went up tremendously,” reported Earl. “Seeing company management working hands-on in their work areas to help improve their work and make their job easier did not go unnoticed by our staff. Management and staff came together on these projects, and that made everyone feel good.”

      Author Information
      John Vicklund is the president of Washington Manufacturing Services, a not-for-profit organization with a singular goal—to make Washington state manufacturers more globally competitive. More information about WMS can be found at mfg@nist.gov .