Case Study:  Plycurves, Inc.

The road for Plycurves, Inc., has had its share of twists, but thanks to a commitment to continuous improvement, things have taken an upward turn.


Water skis were one of the first products manufactured by the Grand Rapids-based company. Since 1947, Plycurve’s clients have ranged from furniture and violinmakers to architectural firms. That focus narrowed to contract furniture seating exclusively when company President/CEO Ron Miller purchased the company in 1989. Plycurves, now with 60 employees, supplies its molded plywood forms to some of North America’s largest office furniture manufacturers.


Like any other business, success has not come without some challenges. Not satisfied with the company’s performance, Miller and Plycurve’s newly developed management team (The Right Place) contracted facilitator Curtis Walker began talking to the company about principles of Lean Manufacturing. One of the company’s first accomplishments came in 2000 when, with assistance from The Right Place, it became the first plywood manufacturer in North America to achieve ISO 9002 registration.


“We had wanted to lower our inventory levels and increase our flexibility in serving our customers, and the work we’ve done to incorporate Lean Manufacturing has made an incredible difference in our productivity,” Miller said, noting Plycurves has reduced its in-process time from as much as seven days, to as little as three hours depending on the product. “We’re now looking at lead times of less than one week.”


Timing couldn’t have been better for the kinds of improvements the management team knew were needed. With Walker's help, the management team reorganized the company’s work processes and plant layout into work cells: each cell manufacturing helped facilitate Plycurve’s move into a new 110,000 square-foot facility. By moving whole cells at a time, the transition was seamless to the company’s customers, Miller explained.


After the November 2001 move, Plycurves continued its efforts to improve its implementation of Lean Manufacturing practices, reorganizing work cells for greater efficiency. In addition, the company joined the Lean Manufacturing User Group sponsored by The Right Place Program – an intense, interactive program that helps companies implement the principles of lean manufacturing. Even though Plycurves’ improvement efforts continue, the company already has seen gains in growth and profitability from reductions in changeovers and work-in-process inventory.


“We’ve experienced about 20 percent compound growth over the past five years, and we expect that to continue,” Miler Said. “Our expectation is to eventually reach out around the world.”


“This company is an example of what kind of improvement is possible when a leader like Ron Miller makes a personal commitment to continuous improvement,” said Birgit Klohs, Right Place Program

President. “With assistance from The Right Place Program’s User Groups and on-site consulting services, Ron has led his firm in their efforts to improve each internal system – from process improvement to human resource development – to become a world class office furniture supplier.”


Summary of Results

  • Developed high-performance work teams
  • Became first plywood manufacturer in U.S. to become ISO 9002 registered
  • Reduced lead times to less than one week
  • Experience 20% compound growth over the last 5 years
  • Developed an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement

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