• Joe Rizzo. Director of the New England Lean

RECAP: Lean Leaders Meeting at Colonial Mills


The New England Lean Consortium held its November Lean Leaders Meeting at Colonial Mills in Pawtucket, RI, on Wednesday, November 7th, 2018.

From the company website: www.colonialmills.com

“Colonial Mills has been crafting quality braided products for 40 years. The Company makes braided rugs, baskets and other braided products. We make all of our products in our Pawtucket, Rhode Island facility, located just down the street from Slater Mill, the birthplace of America's textile industry.

Colonial Mills brings innovation to brand. Through quality, American craftsmanship and adaptable design, we are creating the next generation of braided home fashions. We see braid as a method of construction, not a style. It is this thinking that allows us to combine the traditional and the contemporary. Our approach reflects people's eclectic sense of personal style. From the boldly modern to the classically rustic, we are proudly made to order here in the USA.”

Colonial Mills has been on their Lean Journey since the Scarlata’s took over in 1977 although it was only referred to continuous improvement back then. It has allowed them to be very competitive and to keep all their manufacturing in the US. All products have a 95% US content. They have implemented some very innovative technology into their manufacturing process including the use of iPads for real time data acquisition and review, and instant communication.

The Company’s business model is based on the book, “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack. The book advocates open book management and profit sharing, with the understanding that access to how the company is doing as a whole, helps employees do their jobs more effectively and rewards them when the entire company succeeds. The company believes in and practices that philosophy.

The Company does have an incentive program. There are several metrics which make up the calculations for the size of the profit sharing. There is a chart on the wall of the cafeteria which shows the employees how they are doing with respect to the metrics for the profit sharing. The chart is elegant in its simplicity as there is a plus (+) for meeting or exceeding the goal or a minus (–) for missing or being below the goal. There is a wealth of information on the walls in the cafeteria, including Sales and Profit data, the Incentive Chart, the Laws of Business from the book, “The Great Game of Business”, the “Dear Don” box, the “WOW” award, and lots and lots of pictures of the employees.

The Company Presentation was given my Mary Jane Connell, HR and Quality Manger, Roberta Minnis, Purchasing Manger, Federico Read, Production Manager and Chris and William, IT specialists.

Federico provided the history of their Lean Journey which started in 2003 with some training in Lean, provided by RIMES, the Rhode Island MEP, which today is called the Polaris MEP. In the early days, the company focused on, On Time Delivery, with a goal of shipping product within five days of receiving the order. In 2003 the Company was at 68% On Time Delivery and 9.7 days for actual delivery time. The Company made significant progress in this metric, year after year, until today, the company is at 95.9% On Time Delivery and delivering their product in three days or less, a remarkable achievement, considering the company only manufactures to order.

On the tour we saw several examples of iPads and tablets positioned at all the machines to let the operator know which job to run next and to give the operator all the instructions on how to make the product. In total, there are over 90 iPads and tablets used throughout the plant. The company also uses bar coding to track material from Receiving, through the manufacturing process, to Shipping.

The company has Gemba Boards at each area of the plant. The format has been standardized so that they are easy to read, no matter which area of the plant you are in.

All through the plant tour we noticed lots and lots of visuals from color coding, signage, area markers, area delineators, and instructions.

Some photos of the Factory Areas. Braiding and Sewing are two of the major steps in the manufacture of braided rugs.

The Company also has a Company Store, where many of the attendees visited to buy some of the attractive products, before heading home.

The Plant Tour was followed by a very spirited Plus/Delta feedback session. The pluses were the things that the attendees saw and liked. The Deltas were the improving ideas offered by the attendees.

There were many Pluses as Colonial Mills is well down the road in Lean. There were several Deltas as the attendees see things that the employees often do not see as they are very busy solving problems and taking care of the customer.


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