By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director
As we turn the page from Summer and head into the closing months of 2021, I wanted to share some hope for 2022 and beyond. In the Summer 2021 edition of this magazine, I wrote about the many challenges facing manufacturers, including the ongoing pandemic, fractured supply chains, workforce retention and recruitment, and outdated manufacturing technologies. But I also highlighted the various opportunities facing these same manufacturers, including reshoring, employee wellness programs, innovation, and technological investments. I am here today to write about one particularly progressive company that heeded the many external warnings and worked alongside my company to make the necessary changes and investments to their processes and overall organizational culture.
Oneida Air Systems (OAS) was founded in 1993 in a garage on Oneida Lake in New York. From their humble beginnings, OAS sought to provide industrial-grade dust collection products and technology to smaller wood working operations. Since then, they have dedicated themselves to the innovative design of high-quality dust collection systems that help create a safe, healthy, and practical workplace environment in various applications including woodworking, concrete finishing, and many others. They are world renowned, industry leaders in workshop hygiene and dust collection, and they strive to provide quality US jobs, excellent working conditions, and benefits for the people they employ.
OAS had been pursuing lean manufacturing for over 10 years. Whereas they had realized some improvements, they were not to the extent required to ensure their future as the dominant dust collection system provider in the world. OAS’ Research and Development team regularly created the most innovative dust collection solutions in the world, but their products were being copied by competition at a faster rate than they had ever seen before. OAS needed to establish operational excellence and rapid order fulfillment as a new competitive advantage in the midst of numerous external obstacles. OAS initially decided to focus their improvement efforts on a value stream for an innovative new product. The technological advantages of the new product design were expected to result in more sales volume than the product it was replacing. At the same time, foreign competitors were warehousing their products in the United States and offering faster delivery, so decreasing their overall lead-time was critical even with the expanding sales volume.
TDO was approached to provide expert mentoring for OAS’ lean journey. The philosophy behind lean manufacturing is to drive and sustain continuous improvements through the elimination of waste. However, many lean manufacturing efforts result in backsliding after achieving incremental gains, even with the adoption and implementation of the right processes and lean tools. Rather than pursue tool-based lean manufacturing approaches, TDO recommended that OAS focus on practicing Toyota Kata. Toyota Kata is a systematic approach for developing and sustaining daily continuous improvement efforts, and it introduces different necessary skills and lean manufacturing tools only as they are needed. Toyota Kata inherently seeks to change the way workers solve problems by creating scientific thinkers.
TDO facilitated a Value Stream Mapping kaizen event to ensure that the current state and future state challenges were well understood. After an initial introduction to Toyota Kata, TDO took on the role of “coach”.
TDO continued to coach 2-3 mornings per week until OAS personnel became proficient at striving to new levels of performance using the “Improvement Kata“ pattern and scientific thinking. TDO then shifted their coaching focus to develop OAS’ internal coaching capability so that they could spread daily continuous improvement throughout their organization. Since its initial inception, Toyota Kata has now been practiced in fabrication, assembly, shipping, purchasing, and inside sales departments, as well as strategically at the Operations Management level. TDO is currently providing assistance with product design for manufacturability and layout for a new production line.
OAS developed the knowledge and capability to build and ship product faster than foreign competition could ship their lower-performing products from US warehouses. The lead-time to deliver their focus product was reduced by an average of 70% with regular intervals of 85% reduction. In addition, common wastes associated with hidden factory transactions and transportation were reduced along with front-end process error rates that could cause shipment delays and customer complaints, and labor content for the new product was significantly decreased. Practicing Toyota Kata helped OAS develop the flexibility and scientific thinking that continues to allow them to navigate the myriad obstacles from the pandemic through rapid experimentation. Since the adoption of Toyota Kata, OAS has had consistent increasing sales volume and growth year over year.
The next several months will continue to define the future for many manufacturers. I know that most were hoping that recent issues with fractured supply chains, workforce challenges, technology, and innovation would have subsided by now. However, as OAS was able to emphatically prove, I continue to be confident that those businesses who do invest in their people, processes, equipment, and reshoring will not only experience personal success, but they will also lend a hand to this country’s ongoing post-pandemic renaissance.
For more information on how TDO can help you capitalize on key strategic opportunities to move your manufacturing processes forward, please contact: James A. D’Agostino; (315) 425-5144, Ext. 306; firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit online at TDO.org.