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La-Z-Boy changing production lines to compete with China

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Neosho Daily News

Here is a nice story from Missouri about how La-Z-Boy is converting it's plant (and others) from “batch and queue” to a lean, cellular production layout. Using lean to cut cycle times and costs is a great way of competing with China, particularly with furniture being large and expensive to ship.

In the new concept, the chair or sofa is manufactured by a team within a cell, thus eliminating separate departments. No jobs will be lost in the transition from batch-and-queue to lean cellular.

That's great that they've apparently taken the “no layoffs” pledge, which is critical for maintaining employee involvement. I'm certain the cellular layout would require fewer people than batch-and-queue, but it sounds like the company is trying to grow, as well, which means they can avoid additional hiring.

The primary purpose of the new concept is to increase product numbers. The cells have become so efficient that it has cut the manufacturing time of a chair down from two and one-half days to just three hours.

“This is now a three-hour process from start to finish in the cell,” said La-Z-Boy Midwest production manager Bill Snow. “The process ends with a 12-point inspection. The cell members will not get paid for the piece until it is taken to where it will boxed. But eventually, boxing will take place in the cell as well.”

Again, I like the sound of that, except for “will not get paid for the piece…” which certainly sounds like a “piece work” pay system. The problem with piece work is that, often times, quantity is encouraged over quality. Sure, you can say “we only pay for good quality pieces,” but the incentive is still there to work faster. Instead of working faster, a lean cell needs to run at the rate of customer demand (the concept of takt time). If it were my plant, I'd rather see an hourly wage paid, with a bonus structure for plant performance.

Meyer said that all employees will receive training in team work, conflict resolution, lean manufacturing and continuous improvement.

Again, this is nice to see. They are focused on running the plant differently, it appears, not just changing the layout and saying “we're now lean.” Good luck to everyone at the La-Z-Boy plant!

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent book is an anthology titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

2 Comments
  1. Anonymous says

    Interesting. I remember attending some lean courses years ago that were also attended by a large group of La-Z-boy managers who were learning how to keep their manufacturing in the US. Sometimes the lean road is a slow route, isn’t it?

  2. Anonymous says

    i am married to a man that works for la-z-boy. wanted to say is i think the company is going down hill everyday my husband works in the woodroom in dayton tn he has been with the company for 26 yrs and he is working only 4 days he isn’t getting a full week we have a mortgate and bills to pay and we are just getting by. I can’t work because of illness. Other departments are getting a 40 hr week and my husband only getting 31 hrs and that isn’t enought hrs what are we suppose to do all the work is going over seas and what is the american people to do about their jobs. they have families what are we suppose to do my husband has been there ever he was 18 yrs old he don’t know how to do nothing eles la-z-boy is his life that is all he knows to do.Tell me what we should do. My husband works 2 shift and i use to enjoy going to work but he tells me that he don’t know whats going to happen one day to the next we can’t live on 423.a week when you have a mortgate of 590.84 and when you have other bills to pay and when you have just one pay check coming in tell me how we can get by on this my husband is a hard worker and he knows alot what goes on at the plant. I don’t know why you need to get fabric from china just it is alot cheeper that is a bunch of bull that is hurting the american workers buying fabric from over seas that is what is wrong with the united states now all these people are taking jobs from the american people

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