Over the past few months we’ve blogged twice on the story of Joseph Abboud, the suit designer that is leveraging lean manufacturing to keep their factory in the United States. They deserve the accolades, and today another even more detailed article came out in the Chicago Tribune.
The article begins by describing how the president and the union manager are working together… a lesson many other manufacturers, especially in Detroit, need to learn. Sometimes you simply have to ask for support… and explain why.
Sapienza, president of the Joseph Abboud suit factory, and Pepicelli, who runs its union, are working hand in glove. Union and management are collaborating to revamp timeworn garment-making methods in favor of manufacturing techniques pioneered at Toyota Motor Corp. Their goal: Survival in the face of cheaper foreign competitors.
To speed production and cement the factory’s edge over foreign workers, [CEO Marty] Staff read up on Toyota, poring over the book "The Machine that Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production." He asked Sapienza, his team and the union to embrace Toyota principles, including "kaizen," a Japanese word meaning continuous improvement. The union agreed.
For a lean transformation to be successful, it requires support and commitment from the very top of the organization. In this case it came straight from the CEO.
How many big company executives do you know that have never bothered to visit the inside of one of their factories? Have never been to the gemba? Mr. Staff is more enlightened, and he knows the value that a lean-driven U.S. factory can more than offset higher labor costs.
He loves having the factory. "The factory is really the heart of our company," he said. Keeping Abboud’s suit manufacturing in the United States has advantages, such as reduced shipping time, he said. He also believes overseas workers can’t beat the quality and price of the suits Abboud produces in New Bedford, which sell in Nordstrom Inc. and Bloomingdale’s. While the company is doing fine, management says the U.S. factory has to improve constantly to justify the higher salaries its workers make compared to foreign competitors. The average wage in the factory is $12 an hour, plus union benefits. That’s three or four times what workers in Mexico make, Sapienza said.
The change from old-style garment manufacturing to lean’s one piece flow was significant, but they recognized the opportunities.
The company is asking workers at the factory — half of whom speak only Portuguese or Spanish and many of whom never finished high school — to abandon the "piecework" method of making suits, in which every worker does only one task, and move to team-based work. It’s also asking workers to speak up at kaizen meetings, voicing their opinions on how they can do their jobs better. It’s a big change at the factory, whose previous owners were strictly hierarchical.
Piecework slows production. During the four weeks it takes to make a standard suit, only about 250 minutes of labor is put into the suit. Much of the rest of the time, its components are tied in bundles, sitting on a cart, waiting for the next worker to untie them and work on them. In the factory’s new teams, it takes 12 days to make a suit. Team members are trained to be proficient at more than one task and are asked to do their jobs standing up, if possible, to add more speed. Workers sit close together and the carts that roll bundles of pieces from one worker to the next are gone. Once a worker finishes a piece, it moves to the next worker.
There is still a lot of work to do, and they realize that even 12 days to make a suit must include a lot of non value-added waste.
So far, there are only three teams, each with eight to ten workers, at the 600-person factory. The company hopes to move one-third of its jacket production to teams by August and all trouser production to teams by September. In the final analysis, if Toyota can make a car in 13 hours, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to make a suit in a much reduced period of time." [said Sapienza]
I know which designer I’ll be supporting the next time I have to buy a suit… which isn’t very often out here in California (quite honestly, I don’t know if I still own a suit…). It will look nice with my pair of Allen-Edmonds.