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Merillat's quest for optimal manufacturing: Merillat Industries combines Six Sigma, lean manufacturing and Kaizen events in its quest to achieve optimum quality and efficiency in its production and business processes.

Executives at The Masco Builder Cabinet Group (MBCG) will tell you there's a good reason the company sells more cabinetry for the home than any other manufacturer. It is due, in part, to the implementation of what it calls a "total" manufacturing philosophy--the Masco Production System.

What makes this production system unique is that it combines three highly regarded principles--Six Sigma, lean manufacturing and Kaizen events--into a single system which promotes waste elimination, improved productivity and quality, and process controls. (For a brief explanation of these principles, see sidebar, p. 46)

"It's our core manufacturing strategy that helps us be more competitive in the marketplace," says Steve Wittig, vice president-Six Sigma. "The whole purpose is to always work toward reducing the number of defects by half," he says. "Any process can be improved upon--it just takes time, people and effort."

Merillat implemented Six Sigma in 2002, approximately four years after converting its plant production to Lean manufacturing. While Lean manufacturing focuses on the production process, Six Sigma goes a step further and applies many of the same principles to business services, such as billing and customer relations. MBCG works with third-party certifier Juran Institute to oversee the certification for its Six Sigma Black, Green and Orange Belts.

Six Sigma works best when "driven from the top down," says Wittig. At MBCG, the top 50 leaders in the company are certified as Green or Black Belts and have developed the necessary skills for problem solving, people selection and project execution. MBCG also makes certification available to others employed with the company, as well as to customers and suppliers.

In becoming Black Belt certified, participants undergo 128 hours of training, pass two 2.5-hour written exams, and complete and defend a minimum of two projects during the year. An example of a Black Belt project would be comparing quotes to actual billing to see where improvements can be made in the system.

The next level of certification is Green Belt. Green Belts are required to complete 64 hours of training, pass a 2.5-hour written exam and complete and defend a project. An example of a Green Belt project would be proofing/editing the product specification book.

Relatively new to MBCG is the Orange Belt designation, which involves 48 hours of training and one project completion. An example of an Orange Belt project would be to find a better method of removing exposed glue Lines during assembly.

"We encourage involvement and suggestions from people on the shop floor. We want them to be part of the process, so they can [see] how they themselves are impacting the business," says James Green, MPS/Quality manager at the Adrian facility. "Their recognition [and participation] in this is just incredible."

MBCG has 17 Black Belts, more than 100 Green Belts and 80 Orange Belts, with more employees undergoing the process. Current plans call for employees in the company to undertake 80 projects this year, Wittig says.

"These projects build on other projects," he adds. "We have limitless opportunities to build upon and grow. We're always targeting for 50 percent improvement." Without quoting exact figures, Wittig says the company consistently sees a return on its investment through Six Sigma. "We anticipate continuing this trend," he adds.

"Our goal would be to have everyone participating. We want to give everybody the ability to be able to contribute to the company--to get their ideas heard and implemented.

"We emphasize the method more than the tools--structured problem solving. We want to make sure we've changed the process so the problem doesn't reoccur," Wittig says.

Each of MBCG's manufacturing facilities has a full-time Continuous Improvement team leader who reports to the plant manager. In addition, supervisors and team leaders meet daily at the beginning of each shift to discuss the previous day's performance level, as well as any issues that may have occurred.

"At these cross-functional meetings, we'll also go through metrics with each leader, in a roundtable discussion, to allow everyone to communicate without constraints and to share information," explains Green. "This process is a continual one."

Streamlining the Production Process

Although Merillat tracks its transition to lean manufacturing to the late 1990s, the basic techniques have been implemented in the company since founder Orville Merillat's days, says Wittig. "Orville was doing a lot of things we now consider lean manufacturing, even back in 1946."

Along with its transition to lean manufacturing, the company switched from batch to kitchen-at-a-time manufacturing. "It was a two- to three-year transition until we got it down," Green says. During this time, the company began implementing a five-day turnaround time on job orders.

According to Wittig, "When the customer's order comes in, it goes directly through production, to the assembly line and onto the truck. There basically is no inventory," Wittig says.

In addition to producing kitchens for Merillat's Classic and Essential Lines, all white and bisque laminate doors are manufactured in the Adrian facility. To produce the doors, MDF panels are cut to size on a Holzma panel saw, which also generates labels for subsequent operations. Panels next are routed on one of seven Heian and CNS CNC reuters in the plant, then brought to the nearby Wemhoner membrane presses for lamination. An automatic Gottschild trimmer removes any excess material

"At full capacity, we can produce 700 to 750 doors an hour," says Mike Garwood, first shift assembly team leader, cells 1-5, at the Adrian plant.

All MBCG plants are similarly set up in production cell environments. At the Adrian facility, for example, there are 10 identical cells in the West building for cabinet production and assembly.

Each cell line follows a similar process, Garwood says. A pick list indicates the strip stock and type of cabinet to be built. Frame stock is cut to size on a Striebig vertical panel saw. After inspection, the components are married and placed on a production line for assembly.

Every 60 seconds, the part moves down the line. The first half of the cabinet gets assembled, then the second. "At fuji capacity, the goal is to build 4,350 cabinets on the line in a shift," Garwood says.

Goals and standards are determined based upon established cycle time requirements for each process, Green says. The company tracks work in process through a standardized work audit.

A quality control auditor performs a final check at the end of the assembly line. As an added step in the quality control process, jobs are photographed as they are put onto the delivery truck to ensure that orders are complete. This also helps keep record of which shift produced the shipment in question.

For each phase of the operation, employees are encouraged to make suggestions for improving their standard of work, Garwood says. "They're always looking for the best way to do their job."

"The more [suggestions], the better we get," Wittig adds. "We believe it helps us to quantify our processes and improve our quality."


Kaizen Event: Continuous improvement methodology of an entire value stream or an individual process to create more value and less waste.

Lean manufacturing: Methodology which emphasizes continuous improvement in small increments, by eliminating waste and improving throughput time. It traditionally focuses on steps in a production process.

Poka Yoke: Error proofing

Six Sigma: A disciplined, data-driven approach to minimizing defects in any type of process--business through production. Through a process of continuous improvements, Six Sigma works toward capping defects at 3.4 parts per million, considered "zero defects."

10 Basic Rules:

1. Eliminate waste

2. Minimize inventory

3. Maximize flow

4. Pull from demand

5. Empower workers

6. Meet customer requirements

7. Do it right the first time

8. Abolish local optimization

9. Partner with suppliers

10. Create a culture of continuous improvement



Since its founding in 1946, Merillat Industries has grown to become one of the largest manufacturer of residential cabinetry. A subsidiary of Masco Corp. since 1985, Merillat has manufacturing plants in seven states and employs more than 4,200 people. The Adrian, MI, facility is 485,000 square feet and serves as the corporate headquarters. The company is ISO 1401 and KCMA ESP certified.


1. Corporate-wide, the company utilizes the concepts of Six Sigma and lean manufacturing to improve production and consistently reduce defects in all areas by half.

2. Merillat's production is based on "kitchen-at-a-time" manufacturing, with a five-day turnaround. The company's supply chain is also on a just-in-time basis.

3. Employees are empowered to participate in the Six Sigma process and get their ideas heard and implemented. It offers certification for Black, Green and Orange Belts.


1946: Orville and Ruth Merillat open Merillat Woodworking Co. With three employees, the company manufactures cabinetry in a 2,400-square-foot facility.

1953: Merillat offers standardized cabinets in 3-inch increments. This helps accelerate production and delivery rates.

1954: Merillat moves to a 15,000-square-foot plant in Adrian, MI, and with 17 employees produces approximately 14 kitchens per day.

1959: Merillat surpasses $1 million in sales.

1962: Orville Merillat patents a self-closing hinge, replacing magnetic catches.

1953: Merillat adds laminated doors and drawers to its line of birch cabinets.

1964: The Adrian plant expands to 76,000 square feet. Another expansion, to 135,000 square feet, occurs shortly thereafter. By the end of the 1960s, more than 1,500 cabinets are produced per day and sold through a network of independent dealers in 12 states.

1970: The product line expands to raised panel oak doors.

1971: The company changes its name to Merillat Industries.

1976: Merillat builds its first component manufacturing plant, in Jackson, OH. The company becomes the seventh largest cabinet manufacturer in North America, producing more than 2,800 cabinets per day, which it sells through a network of 81 distributors.

1980: With more than 2,500 employees, Merillat now has four component and five assembly plants. Products are sold through more than 100 distributors.

1985: Merillat is acquired by Masco Corp. Orville Merillat is named chairman and Richard Merillat president of Merillat Industries. The company is now the largest kitchen and bath residential cabinet manufacturer.

1996: Merillat introduces Whitebay raised-panel vinyl cabinet doors. Amera's semi-custom line makes inroads in the new construction market.

1996: Merillat Industries celebrates 50 years.

1998: Merillat implements a formal lean manufacturing policy corporate wide.

2000: The Ocala plant opens. Merillat is now part of The Masco Builder Cabinet Group and is producing more than 1,000 kitchens per day.

2002: Six Sigma is introduced throughout Merillat. Also this year, Masterpiece, Classic and Essential cabinet lines are introduced.

2006: MBCG opens a facility in Los Lunas, NM, bringing to 12 the number of plants (Adrian, MI; Jackson, OH; Culpeper, Atkins and Mt. Jackson, VA; Rapid City, SD; Las Vegas, NV; Duncanville and Cedar Hill, TX; Mt. Sterling, KY; and Ocala, FL). A multi-billion dollar company, MBCG employs more than 7,500 people.
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Comment:Merillat's quest for optimal manufacturing: Merillat Industries combines Six Sigma, lean manufacturing and Kaizen events in its quest to achieve optimum quality and efficiency in its production and business processes.(INDUSTRY TRENDSETTER)
Author:Koenig, Karen M.
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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