North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership
ASMC Member Providing Hands-On Help through the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership
Southern Vinyl Manufacturing, located in Kinston, North Carolina, sells PVC fencing and railing systems to building material professionals. The company was created in 1996 by Dean Ervin in his garage. Today, Southern Vinyl is located in a business park and employs 12 people.
Southern Vinyl’s co-owners, Dean Erwin and Rod Matthews, intentionally operated under the radar, quietly building the business for most of its existence. In 2004, they decided to grow the business quickly, to quintuple sales. They had heard what they considered to be hype about what lean manufacturing could do. Both had been through continuous improvement initiatives in other companies, and their experience was that the hype seldom matched reality. The owners decided to take a closer look at lean. They attended a class on lean basics taught by the Industrial Extension Service (IES) at North Carolina State University, a NIST MEP network affiliate, at Lenoir Community College. The class was developed through a partnership of IES, the community college and the Small Business Technology Development Center (SBTDC). Ervin and Matthews realized that lean was what they needed. Much of what they heard was counter to how Southern Vinyl worked. Batch work and large inventories were wasters, they learned. “We have to do what customers pay us to do,” Ervin said. “They pay us to assemble, not to move stuff around.” As the class ended, they asked IES specialist, David Harrawood, to come to their company and help them implement lean.
Harrawood brought IES lean specialist Michelle Cooper to the Southern Vinyl facility, where she spent a week introducing and implementing lean. Matthews said he had arranged materials the way “the accountant in me” would do it. A pedometer quickly showed that an assembler was walking five miles a day under this system. Using lean tools, this employee now walks half a mile a day. He now assembles the first porch rail kit in 1 minute and 33 seconds, much faster than his previous rate of 30 minutes. Southern Vinyl employees offered ideas for assembling the kits quicker and with fewer mistakes. Many of those ideas worked. “We made the commitment that no one would lose their job because of lean manufacturing,” Ervin said. “We’re growing rapidly. For example, we were making 10 kits per period before (lean), 25 kits after. Errors have virtually disappeared.” Management learned from this lean experience that “the smartest people in the world are the ones doing the job,” Ervin said. “Let’s make it easier for them to do the job.” The dozen employees at Southern Vinyl created custom systems that eliminate the need for measuring and counting, which has drastically reduced mistakes.
Southern Vinyl will kick up lean implementation a notch, thanks to a $37,500 grant from the East Carolina Workforce Development Board. The company plans to use much of the tools in the lean toolbox: policy deployment, 5-S events, value stream mapping. “We’re no Toyota,” Matthews said, referring to the car company with the lean image, “but we’re trying to implement lean.” “We’re rolling it out as fast as we can,” Ervin said.
- Anticipated annual savings of $100,000.
- Reduced cycle time from 8 weeks to 4 days.
- Improved quality of product.
- Eliminated errors.
- Reduced porch rail kit assembly from 30 minutes to 1 minute and 33 seconds.
- Eliminated customer complaints.
- Received grant from the East Carolina Workforce Development Board for lean implementation.
“We’re really under pressure with very rapid growth, deliberately moving from “under the radar’ to high visibility. We have begun advertising in trade journals as part of the new marketing plan. The expected increase in demand drives the lean implementation. We’re in the honeymoon stage of lean. We want to put it in the DNA of our company.”
Dean Ervin, Co-owner