What is the best way to gain buy-in at a manufacturer that is resistant to culture change? iSixSigma spoke with Zack Chehaitli, Master Black Belt and director of continuous improvement for Sea Ray Boat Group, about his experience with Lean Six Sigma and how he helped bring continuous improvement principles to the boat manufacturing industry through the use of Kaizen events.

Early experience in Six Sigma: “My interest in Lean Six Sigma [LSS] and Kaizen began with my industrial engineering background over 15 years ago. To ‘simplify and perfect’ a business transaction or a manufacturing process seemed logical and intrigued me. At that time, as a young industrial engineer, I was always tasked with improving efficiency and quality. I discovered early on in my carrier that Lean Six Sigma offers a great structure, and it is a vehicle to use when optimizing a process. I received my formal Six Sigma Black Belt training at GE. I received my Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt training and certification through Brunswick’s [Sea Ray’s parent company] LSS program.”

On introducing Six Sigma to the boat-building business: “We deployed DMAIC in 2005 and Kaizen in 2007 and met some resistance at first. Boat building is a very labor-intensive process. It really has a lot more to do with craftsmanship than regular factory work. Therefore it’s very difficult to change that culture. When we held Kaizen events, some workers would get upset and say, ‘Please don’t touch my work station.’ But by the end of the day, they’d be thanking us for showing them how to reduce waste… Converting ‘nay-sayers’ to believers is the key to successful DMAIC projects and Kaizen events. So we’ve been very successful in getting some great buy-in from the employees on the floor.”

On the group’s preference for Kaizen: “We use Kaizen events and have focused more on the Lean side, which has helped reduced variation on the thickness of the resins we use. Weight is a critical variable to boat performance in our business. If you use too much resin, the boat gets heavier, reduces speed and increases fuel usage. We like to use [Six Sigma] tools in a very practical way, and we’re had a tremendous amount of success with Kaizen events. At every single event, we touch on cost, quality, delivery, safety and people, and we get at least 80 improvement action items out of them every time. We like to hold about one event per month, per facility, so at any given time, we’re holding six or seven Kaizen events.”

On surviving the recession: “We had savings of $2.3 million in 2007 and almost $3 million in 2008 [from projects and Kaizens], but we set a goal for only $1 million for 2009. That’s due to the downsizing of our organization. We are basically half the size we were a year ago due to the economic conditions. Still for the year to date [October 2009], we are already at a savings of $1.5 million and are forecasted to reach $1.66 million by the end of the year.”

Favorite project: “I can’t think of one that really sticks out, but most of them have to do with the reduction in variation. In one project, we were getting too many heavy spots where spray core putty was accumulating on the masters before finish cutting. Any putty that accumulated over 0.4 inches off the master surface was simply milled off as pure waste, but we were getting some spots [that were] as much a 1.5 inches thick. By using LSS tools such as process flow maps, cause-and-effect diagrams, an input-process-output matrix, fault tree analysis, and failure mode effect analysis, we were able to reduce material usage variation through improved process controls and spray technique. We achieved a hard savings of $117,278 by reducing putty usage from 9.48 pounds per square foot to 4.69 pounds per square foot.”

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