Continuous improvement, grassroots-style: Inside Clopay Building Products

Frustration is a frequent spark for innovation, and that’s right where some product staging employees at garage door manufacturer Clopay Building Products found themselves.

The process for staging and processing Clopay’s sectional door configuration bundles – unwieldy boxes that group door components for eventual installation – entailed comparing a printed list of the day’s shipping requirements with a string of numbers on the boxes themselves. It was time-consuming task, one process technician Brice Johnson saw a way to improve: Why not provide a visual cue for the carts that needed pulled that day?

The solution wasn’t fancy, but it did the trick: Walk the floor of the massive manufacturing operation today and you’ll see youth soccer training cones perched on stacks of the bundles. Problem solved.

Joey Fransway of Clopay Building Products

This front-line problem solving is something that might not have happened as frequently as a few years ago at Clopay Building Products, but it’s happening today thanks to a grassroots continuous improvement movement at the Troy-based company shepherded by Joey Fransway, Director of Quality, Environmental Health & Safety, and others. Fransway and his team will be opening their doors for an inside look at their journey on Tuesday, April 10, as part of The Ohio State Center for Operational Excellence’s sixth-annual Leading Through Excellence summit.

‘On a path’

Fransway credits the company’s COE membership as a driving force in its continuous improvement push.

“We’re still on a path, and that path is through connecting with other people through the COE,” he said. “We want to learn from others.”

Clopay Building Products is one of about 20 manufacturing companies that make up COE’s member roster, but it holds the distinction of being the largest manufacturer of residential garage doors, and one of the largest makers of commercial sectional doors, in the U.S. The company employs about 1,600, more than 1,000 of whom are at the Troy operation. The residential and commercial garage door market, according to Griffon, has been estimated to be about a $2 billion business, making Clopay Building Products a major player – thanks in no small part to its exclusive deals with Home Depot and Menards to supply residential garage doors to their stores throughout North America.

Clopay Building Products’ growth has created challenges and opportunities in operations and design. Volume is up, but so is the diversity of products, which range from standard to hand-crafted high-end.

“People used to look at garage doors as a thing that got them in and out of a garage,” Fransway said. “Now it’s an extension of themselves.”

The core tenet of Clopay Building Products’ continuous improvement push has been to empower employees at all levels to solve problems. That’s entailed a rollout of visual management boards throughout the plant, coupled with regular stand-up meetings, along with added touches such as group get-togethers to view TED Talks. The foundation of it all is a “Blue Belt” lean/Six Sigma training program rolled out a year ago that has enrolled more than 60 employees and graduated more than 20, Fransway said.

An example of Clopay Building Products’ visual management on the floor

“We’re focused on getting everybody down that path to continuous improvement, getting information to people on the floor,” he said. “If this is just top-down, it doesn’t do us any good.”

Buy-in is growing at the Troy operation, but this isn’t just happening inside Clopay Building Products’ four walls. The company is heading upstream, too, connecting suppliers to its Blue Belt resources and tying it to its existing supplier certification program.

The locker room

Back inside the Troy operation, a major focus has been on uniting employees to drive collaboration and innovation. Post-it Notes have helped. Fransway and others have transformed an area of the back office previously used for storage into what’s called the “Quality Locker Room,” a hands-on hub for tracking initiatives using visual boards and Post-its.

“When you’re just making lists on the computer, it never goes anywhere,” Fransway said. “When you’re in this room you’re a part of it.”

With its mix of front-line empowerment and visual management, coupled with a relentless focus on quality, the Clopay Building Products continuous improvement initiative is a benchmark in “starting from scratch” and using existing resources – along with relationships like COE – to drive cultural change.

When the company opens its doors in April for the tour, attendees will have the opportunity to see the Quality Locker Room and take a guided tour of the plant, which will stop at about 15 different stations on the floor to highlight how continuous improvement initiatives are being embedded throughout.

It’s a great deal of progress – but like any journey to excellence, it’s far from done.

“Where we want to be is nothing like where we are today,” Fransway said.

Seats remain available for the Clopay Building Products tour. They can be claimed by registering for the summit by the Monday, April 2, deadline.

 

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