Friday, July 20, 2007

Nationwide Again

Yesterday, I visited the home base of Nationwide Custom Homes in Martinsville, VA. I saw many of the same things that I saw in the Siler City plant, which makes sense since they adopted the building practices of Martinsville when they converted to a Nationwide plant. Here are some observations from Martinsville:
  • When the homes come off the end of the assembly line, they are complete. There is no outside rework area, nor is there a "finish-out" plant like in Siler City. This puts a lot of stress on the line. Whenever a home has a unusual feature (for example, wood interior wall panels instead of drywall), it can delay completion of the home. This means that the line can stop, because the house can't leave the plant unfinished. Since everybody on the line knows that the house can't be worked on outside the plant, there is a sense of urgency to fix these problems to avoid line stoppage.

  • They have a components plant located between the two main assembly plants. This component plant produces floor joists, trusses, etc. for the main line. Components are built to order (not stocked) and delivered to the main assembly plants in a just-in-time manner. Siler City does this also, but their component processes are located right next to their internal customers, in the same work space essentially. In Martinsville, the material has to travel a pretty good distance to reach its interal customer.

  • One of the assembly plants is a "shotgun" line and the other is a "side-saddle" line (similar to what most of our plants have). The first thing I noticed was the ample space that exists on the shotgun line. This makes it much easier to work safely and to get material closer to the point of use.

  • Both Siler City and Martinsville set the roofs earlier on in the production line than most of our plants. Typically, the main structure of the home (floor, walls, roof) is intact at the point on the line where we'd typically be just setting the walls. As an added bonus, much of the shingle work is already done before this point. Having the main structure complete so early allows the secondary structural installations (electrical, drywall, exteriors, etc.) to get started in time to finish before the home reaches the end of the line.

Both our Martinsville and Siler City plants are interesting to observe. They make use of common-sense practices and take extra time to check quality. That being said, they're still not Lean. As stated in my post yesterday, many opportunities still exist to improve the flow of work within all of the Nationwide plants.

Fortunately, the management team at Nationwide seems to have embraced Lean as the best option for drastically improving the productivity and flexibility of their production line. Martinsville has a Lean Advocate, Don Nelson, that has a combination of Lean knowledge (he's a Lean Six Sigma black belt) and manufactured housing savvy (former manager at Crestline). The VP of Operations, Tommy Rakes, is a Lean enthusiast, so I expect any barriers to improvement to be knocked down with zeal. I look forward to seeing their success.

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