Arizona Western Fixture and Display, Inc. designs and manufactures custom fixtures and displays for various customers. In 1984 the founder, Bernard Narcy, started the company out of his garage. Today, you can find the company's products at La-Z-Boy Inc. stores, LCG Everbrook Academies, UnitedHealthcare, One AZ Credit Union, and Vantage West. The company's growth and success are due to a well-refined and dedicated manufacturing process and a team operating out of a 30,000-square-foot facility.
Arizona Western's objective is steady and sustainable growth, but the company was unsure if it had the right processes in place. In 2021, after being contacted by Arizona MEP senior client advisor Michael Jimmerson, the company applied for the Arizona MEP's emergency assistance program (EAP), which provided funds to manufacturers negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the application process, Arizona MEP assessed the business needs and goals of the company by working with the company's leadership team to develop a plan that focused on the following areas:
- Learning and implementing Lean principles
- Inventory management planning and update to safety stock levels
- New website to attract new employees and clients
- Safety program audit and training
Lean Manufacturing Helps Reorganize Production Teams for Efficiency and Quality
Arizona MEP first focused on improvements to the organization of the production team. In May 2021, Arizona MEP conducted a Lean 101 workshop with the leadership team to introduce the basic concepts and followed up with two workshops advancing the team's knowledge. One of the concepts, tiered management teams, would organize production teams to improve workflow and accountability and provide opportunities for advancement. Arizona MEP's continuous improvement expert, Kyle Randels, helped Arizona Western reorganize the single, large production team, which reported to one plant manager, into smaller three-to-four person teams, each with a team leader. Each team was assigned to production, packaging, and shipping areas.
The new tiered management structure provided these benefits:
- Long-term cost savings by retaining employees who might have left the company for advancement opportunities
- Empowered employees to standardize the production process for each manufacturing cell based on their experience and Lean principles.
- Alleviated communication bottlenecks by spreading out responsibilities across several team leaders instead of relying on one plant manager
Root Cause Analysis Helps Solve Problems for Consistent, Quality Work
After Arizona Western implemented the tiered management structure, the teams were ready to implement a formal process for efficient root cause analysis of defects and errors. "Arizona MEP helped us implement a 'stop the line' process where employees can stop production and work towards fixing the immediate issue," said Pamela Narcy, Arizona Western Controller. Instead of waiting until the last step in the process, employees feel empowered to call attention to defects before the final inspection. Because each cell has a formalized process, employees can pinpoint the root cause faster.
New Safety Stock Levels Improve Inventory on Essentials, Improves Supplier Relationships
In June 2021, Arizona Western started to feel the disruptions to the supply chain due to the pandemic. Arizona MEP's inventory management expert collaborated with the company to assess its inventory management practices. As a result, the company implemented new safety stock levels on high-volume items essential to production. "Hinges, staples, nails, nailers, and staple guns are supplies we need across any job," said Narcy. "When we run out of stock of these supplies, production stops." Arizona Western increased the amount of inventory it carried for hardware items. Doing so improved its relationship with suppliers, which could then reduce the number of delivery trips to the facility and save delivery costs amidst rising gas prices.
New Website Attracts New Employees and Showcases Projects
Using the funds from the EAP, Arizona Western was also able to update its website using the Arizona MEP's digital marketing expert. The company now has a modern platform to showcase finished projects installed at its clients' locations. The website also helps the company advertise new employment opportunities.
Continuing the Partnership
Even though Arizona MEP's EAP program has ended, Arizona Western has continued its relationship with Arizona MEP. The company continues implementing Lean principles, and one employee is now a certified Six Sigma Black Belt. Future projects with Arizona MEP include human resources training for new production team leaders on how to resolve conflicts and communicate effectively. Arizona MEP's safety expert will be working with the company on a new safety program and training. Narcy also regularly attends Arizona MEP workshops, which offer education on business topics critical to manufacturers.
"When we first took the Lean 101 class, we didn't know the direction it would take us," said Narcy. "And that was exciting because it took us in a whole new direction. Michael and Kyle at AZ MEP really helped with that decision and how to start successfully. We are still partnering with MEP because it's been such a valuable resource to our company."