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CIRAS - Productivity - Lean: Kaizen - In-depth Information

Audubon Media Corporation applies the cycle of continuous improvement and strategic planning

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by Jim Black, CIRAS


Audubon Media Corporation prints cookbooks ranging from small orders of a church or family cookbook up to nationally marketed cookbooks. They also publish the Audubon County newspaper. Between 50 and 65 people are employed at the 11,000 square foot facility, the variation due to seasonal sales fluctuations.

In the past, CIRAS had completed a plant layout project to assist the company in preparing for a move into new facilities. CIRAS also connected the company with a printing expert who made technical process and equipment recommendations. In 1995, with the cookbook business growing rapidly, the company recognized that the next step in their growth process was to start developing written procedures, work instructions, and flowcharts. Also, the company owner wanted to see more team-oriented practices employed.

In October 1995, I was asked to evaluate the situation and recommend a plan to help Audubon Media improve the throughput of their plant. Following the assessment visit and phone calls with owner Keith McGlade and Press Room Manager Mark Baler, I facilitated a Kaizen (continuous improvement) workshop for bindery and press department employees, with two half- day sessions in January 1996 and two half-day sessions in February 1996.

The first project was representative of the Kaizen process. Key topic areas included the seven Kaizen key concepts, developing a process flow chart, the seven deadly wastes, the "5-S" process, and value adding vs non-value adding process steps. During the January sessions, 39 improvement ideas were generated, priorities were set, and an action plan was developed with responsibility and target completion dates identified. During the February sessions, a process flow chart was developed, 33 more improvement ideas were generated, priorities were set, and an action plan was developed. Most of the team's ideas were implemented by April 1996.

Some companies think Kaizen will work only for large plants. This small town, small plant team certainly disproved that perception. Others believe that Kaizen will work only with a strong, on-site champion. With McGlade living out of state and visiting monthly, the team again defied conventional wisdom. McGlade utilizes teams and empowerment to compensate for not being on-site. He supported the team's process and equipment needs, but allowed them the latitude to implement their ideas even during his absence.

Another issue which required innovation was job security. We addressed such concerns immediately by writing each one on the board and discussing them. With numerous part-time employees and lots of overtime, management anticipated no layoffs of full-time employees.

The team recognized that I was not a printing expert, so how would I tell them what to do to improve? I indicated I would not be generating the ideas, but rather would teach the team members concepts that would allow them to see their processes "with new eyes." After several visits to the work area, members became adept at identifying opportunities to improve. Before and after photographs were taken to create a team scrapbook illustrating the improvements.

During the time between the second and third half-day sessions, three weeks were allowed for idea implementation. At least 40 percent of the floor space in the bindery was rearranged by the team during this time, increasing available space by 20 percent. Special material handling carts (like the one shown in the photo on page 1) eliminated multiple handling and reduced waste at the collators. Many non-value adding operations were eliminated or improved, such as the restacking of piles of pages between operations. Written procedures, equipment operating settings, and instructions were developed which will greatly improve the timely effectiveness of part-time and peak-season employees.

Within a three-month period, the team eliminated the bottleneck at the bindery operation. Bindery now pulls work from the previous operation (press). Three jobs were saved in Bindery freeing these people to work in other departments. With better product flow and reduced congestion, job visibil- ity was improved and conditions became less stressful for employees and supervisors. Sales increases of 25 percent were accomplished without increasing staffing. Quantifiable savings returned the costs by a ratio of 9:1, which increases competitiveness of the company. Total net savings of $40,000 were realized.

The company is pleased with the outcomes of the Kaizen project--not just the savings, but the sense of accomplishment, teamwork, and improved working conditions as well. McGlade asked me to facilitate four more Kaizen workshops for a total of five. The second, third, and fourth workshops with the cookbook business were completed during 1996. Additional benefits generated by the last three workshops included

  • Greatly improving manpower flexibility to meet business fluctuations
  • Reducing lead-time by at least 50 percent
  • Identifying and charting WIP and order costs
  • Leveling weekly shipments, compared with month-end surge in shipments
  • Implementing 5-S boards and simplified materials storage
  • Improving usage of shared resources
  • Identifying and charting key measures of success

McGlade also plans to apply the Kaizen process to the newspaper business based on the successes achieved in the cookbook business. The fifth workshop, with the newspaper team, was scheduled for March 1997. He also asked me to facilitate separate strategic plans for both the cookbook and newspaper businesses during second quarter and Deming management tools during third quarter of 1997.

CIRAS News, Vol. 31, No. 3, Spring 1997

Audubon Media Corporation applies the cycle of continuous improvement and strategic planning

The Kaizen team designed this improved material handling cart to eliminate walking and restocking.