Lean manufacturing promises reduced waste and improved productivity.
SeaSucker is becoming a lean, mean manufacturing machine.
The Bradenton-based company makes products that use vacuum seal technology, including bicycle racks, marine accessories and electronics mounts.
SeaSucker Operations Director Genevieve Casagrande became interested in pursuing lean manufacturing after witnessing other manufacturing peers in the area successfully use it. The company, founded in 2005, has since used lean to reshape nearly everything it does, from the factory floor to order fulfillment.
“Over the past five years, we’ve worked hard to move all our manufacturing back to the states,” she says, adding that manufacturing in the U.S. is more costly than bringing in parts from China. Those added costs were part of the reason to introduce the lean method. “It was important for us to become more efficient and innovate,” Casagrande says.
Another part of the equation? SeaSucker wanted to be competitive with pricing without compromising its products. “For us, it came down to being more efficient with eliminating waste so we could continue to compete,” she says.
“Over time, doing these small things every day ended up having a large impact.” — Genevieve Casagrande, operations director, SeaSucker
Casagrande first read three or four books about lean manufacturing and did online training. Then the company introduced small changes. “Over time,” she says, “doing these small things every day ended up having a large impact.”
Once such change was in the molding process for a specific part that had somewhat of a high defect rate, she says. SeaSucker added a quality control slip the operator had to sign, and in one day, the scrap rate went down 12%.
Since introducing lean, the company’s order fulfillment has also improved. Now, the company ships out 95% of domestic orders within three days and international orders within a week. Before lean, the rate was closer to 75%.
A move to a new building presented another opportunity: reorganize SeaSucker’s warehouse to make it leaner. “Now it has so much more flow,” Casagrande says. “Each piece is where it is now on purpose.” Gone are extra steps that came from transporting products that didn’t need to move. She says, “If you’re not lean, one of the things you waste the most of is time.”
A crucial element to the company becoming leaner was empowering SeaSucker’s 34 full-time employees to make changes to improve their workstations. “Trying to promote a lean culture where it only disseminates from the leadership echelon will never work,” she says. It has to have buy-in from all levels, including employees on the manufacturing floor. Motivating staff is crucial. “If you can do that, then eliminating waste becomes easy,” Casagrande says.
SeaSucker has a list of lean areas it wants to tackle next. One item on it is an electronic inventory system, which it hopes to have in place in the next two or three months. “We’re not totally lean yet,” Casagrande says. “It’s all about continually improving and each day becoming more and more lean.”