Plywood manufacturing and the pursuit of improvement : does lean manufacturing fit in? Kofoed, Mike
Due to a personal interest in softwood plywood manufacturing and an appreciation of the general manufacturing trend towards continuous improvement, a discussion of the two topics together seemed natural. Among existing improvement philosophies, the concepts of lean manufacturing have received much attention and some secondary producers within the wood products industry have applied the concepts successfully. Primary producers, on the other hand, are often suspicious of the suitability of lean ideas to their industry. Therefore, the question of whether aspects of lean manufacturing can fit in with plywood manufacturing improvement strategies is an interesting one. To explore the concept, this paper provides some background on lean manufacturing and discusses the limitations of applying it to a primary wood products industry. In light of these limitations, some plywood manufacturers claim to have implemented certain lean techniques and a review of these accounts is given. The lean concepts of focusing on value-creating activities and identifying manufacturing waste are then used to construct a value framework for the four main stages of plywood manufacture: the green end, the dryers, the layup and press, and the finishing end. Certain types of waste are then discussed at each stage and discussion from personal experience is given on either how plywood plants currently approach the identified waste or on how they could approach it, given the structure and confines of the industry. This exploration leads to the general conclusion that areas for improvement in plywood manufacturing can be recognized by searching for certain wastes defined by lean manufacturing. In this way, waste identification can answer the question of where improvement can be pursued. However, it is difficult for plywood operations to aspire to full leanness, and so the operations are typically bound to making improvements in the identified areas by focusing on cost savings or on other techniques that are not necessarily lean techniques.
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