8 Wastes for Countertop Fabricators to Cut for Better Efficiency

Apr 14, 2022 | Business

We’ve been diving deep into lean manufacturing for countertop fabricators over the last few weeks. And because lean manufacturing is all about boosting efficiency with an emphasis on cutting waste, that’s what this whole post is dedicated to!

Think of manufacturing waste like that extra poundage you pick up after eating a bag of Doritos. It might be comforting in the moment, but it doesn’t really add any value to your diet. By cutting processes that don’t add value to your operation (remember: value means anything a customer would be willing to pay for), you can get your operation to run lean and mean.

There are eight wastes you should watch for in your countertop fabrication company if you want to benefit from lean manufacturing methods. By cutting these wastes, you can put your operation on a diet and trim some of that unnecessary fat.

1. Transport

Moving materials takes time and effort. In a countertop fabrication operation, it usually requires some heavy machinery, too! Of course, some transport is unavoidable, but too much transport is a waste of energy, time, and resources—the key word being “waste.”  

Transportation waste occurs any time you move materials more than necessary.

For example, think about your countertop installation team. They’re running around all over town, delivering and installing countertops. Imagine they have three installations in a day: one is right next to the shop (A), the second is downtown (B), and the third is on the other side of town (C).

Without proper scheduling, your crew might go B to A to C. Hauling those countertops over a route that overlaps itself is transport waste. Lean manufacturing says you should always go A to B to C. You’ll use less fuel, time, and energy.

In terms of value—which in lean manufacturing, always refers to value for the customer—your customers will get their countertops faster. Plus, since you’ll use less fuel, you can cut costs!

Transport waste is more than just inefficient delivery routes. Here are some common areas of transport waste in a countertop fabrication operation:

  • Poor facility layout
  • Inefficient production planning
  • Lack of scheduling
  • Poor workplace organization

Try to create an efficient flow in your production processes to limit material transport waste, and you’ll be well on your way to running lean and mean!

2. Inventory

It might seem like a good idea to have excess inventory in stock—you know, “just in case.” But think about all the time, effort, and money that goes into maintaining all that inventory.

First, you need somewhere to store it all, and extra space isn’t cheap! Then, you need someone to manage and track all the inventory. And on top of all that, you’ll have to transport the inventory to rotate stock and keep everything moving.

When you put it like that, it sounds exhausting, right?

According to lean manufacturing principles, maintaining excessive inventory is considered waste. 

Some of the most common causes of inventory waste in a countertop manufacturing operation include:

  • Inaccurate forecasting models
  • Long changeover times
  • Unbalanced production processes
  • Inefficient processes or suppliers
  • Poor inventory management and tracking

If you want to run lean, you should establish a pull system. A pull system is when customer demand “pulls” your manufacturing process along. Instead of keeping inventory based on demand estimates, wait to start work until there’s actually a demand. This limits your overhead and inventory waste.

3. Motion

Transporting materials isn’t the only kind of movement waste that can go on at your countertop company. People, equipment, and tools move around too, and that can be just as wasteful!

Any movement that doesn’t directly add value to the product is considered waste according to lean manufacturing principles.

Motion waste can range from something as simple as bending over to reach the tool you need to having your installers drive between buildings on the property to get the right paperwork or load the truck.

If you want to know where to look for motion waste, check these common problem areas:

  • Inefficient shop layout
  • Unnecessarily complicated procedures
  • Lack of visual controls
  • Poor standard operating procedures or process documentation
  • Negative workplace organization

Much like with transport waste, try to create a smooth flow throughout your manufacturing process. The less your workers and equipment need to move, the faster and more efficiently they can do their jobs.

4. Waiting

“Waiting” usually happens when your processes aren’t fully synchronized. For example, your sales person in the office might have to wait for an answer from the owner on a certain material price or inventory before sending out a quote.

Lack of synchronization can occur for several reasons:

  • Production bottlenecks
  • Waiting for equipment to become available
  • Equipment downtime
  • Production waiting for machine operators
  • Lack of proper equipment
  • Long setup times
  • Skills monopolies

If your fabricators have to consistently wait around for a machine to finish before they can start on the next one, perhaps it’s time to invest in another one. Yes, that’s expensive, but it’ll allow your fabricators to work more efficiently and reduce downtime. Over time, it’ll help you reduce costs and provide more value to your customers—and that’s the true essence of lean manufacturing!

5. Overproduction

The goal of any lean manufacturing organization is to produce exactly the number of gizmos that the market demands. If customers need 50 countertops per month, you should produce 50 countertops. Any less would leave money on the table, and any more would mean you spent time and energy producing an item that didn’t sell or bring value back to your business.

We’re all already thinking it from the inventory section, so I’ll just say it…Remnants! Talk about waste of space, material, and mental stress. This isn’t necessarily overproduction per se, but it is a major issue that fabricators have to deal with. Every shop deals with it a little differently. Some try to be as resourceful as possible when planning out their cuts, and some have creative sales programs dedicated to a goal of selling off remnants.

Other overproduction waste usually lives in these areas of your countertop fabrication processes:

  • Lack of communication
  • Poor estimating systems
  • Bad planning and material estimating
  • Automation in the wrong places
  • Low uptimes
  • A “just in case” production mentality

6. Overprocessing

Why do something in seven steps when you can do it in five? That’s the essence of overprocessing waste. Overprocessing is when there’s a redundancy in your processes. In lean manufacturing, redundancy is a bad word! It’s synonymous with waste.

Overprocessing waste can come from several sources:

  • Excessive process or product refinement
  • Unnecessary information
  • Process bottlenecks
  • Redundant approvals or reviews
  • Unclear customer specifications

For example, how many times does a countertop job need to get approved throughout the process from quote to install? If you need to review the designs, the slab, the cut, and the finished product multiple times, you might be overprocessing. Yes, reviews are essential to maintain quality, but too many reviews can just slow you down.

Always be on the lookout for ways to streamline processes more efficiently and cut overprocessing waste. After all, why work any harder than you have to!?

7. Defects

Another of the more obvious forms of waste is defects. Any time a countertop gets messed up and you have to repair, rework, or (worse) scrap the entire project, it’s waste. It’s never fun to watch your hard work (money) get thrown in the dumpster because of an avoidable defect.

If you want to reduce defects (and who doesn’t?!), here are a few common causes potentially lurking in your manufacturing processes:

  • Inadequate tools or equipment
  • Miscommunication
  • High levels of inventory
  • Insufficient employee training
  • Incompatible processes
  • Transport damage from poor shop layout or unnecessary handling

The best way to reduce defect waste is to standardize your processes, at least as much as possible. When things are done the exact same way every time, there’s less risk of defects.

8. Unutilized Talent

What many businesses don’t realize is that their most valuable resource isn’t their materials, building, machinery, or vehicles. It’s the employees! Employees are what drive the entire manufacturing process. Without them and their skills, your business would not be able to succeed.

When it comes to lean manufacturing, your team is just as much a part of the process as your countertop fabrication software or equipment—if not more! Work together to utilize each employee’s unique skills and talents properly to make the shop’s process as efficient as possible.

For example, you wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to cut countertops. I mean, you could, but it’d be pretty difficult to get the exact cuts you want, and there’d likely be a ton of defect waste. It’s just not the right tool for the job.

Similarly, if you have an employee who’s a wiz when it comes to countertop design software, you shouldn’t have them out on the saw. They’d be much better utilized behind a computer, designing incredible countertops.

Not only would they be able to pump out designs more efficiently, but your customers would also enjoy the better designs and faster turnaround times—which is the lean manufacturing definition of value!

Talent waste can appear in a few different forms:

  • Using talent in the wrong application
  • Not utilizing employees’ critical thinking abilities
  • Ignoring employee feedback
  • Limiting employee cooperation

Reduce Lean Manufacturing Waste at Your Shop

Waste appears in all shapes and sizes throughout every step of your fabrication process. That might sound daunting, but finding and eliminating even one of these eight lean manufacturing wastes will take you one step closer to complete optimization!

We might be a little biased, but we believe one of the best ways to eliminate waste is to implement software. With the right data at your fingertips, you can make better business decisions and more easily identify areas of waste. You’ll be surprised at what you can do when you have the right tools for the job.