By Mark Rounds, VP of Corporate Development

Lean is not only for manufacturing and production. Lean is thinking differently about everything we do. It challenges us to eliminate waste to improve customer value. That value might literally be translated through the cost of the project, or might be figuratively expressed through the values and culture of the company.

When I have asked other contractors what they do with all the stuff left over at the end of a job, most everyone says they haul all the materials to the yard. Then I ask, “What do you do with it at the yard?” Again, the unanimous answer is the materials are sorted and stored, or thrown out.

Why do we store it? Well, we may need that someday. (Sure…and when someday comes, we usually purchase what we need and ignore what is in the yard!) The typical process is this: Excess materials are palletized, loaded on to trucks, hauled to the yard, unloaded, and sorted or thrown out. What is not thrown out becomes inventory.

Lean defines excess inventory as Waste. Handling of the excess inventory is Waste. Transporting the excess inventory is Waste. And above all, with each (extra) step, there is exposure to injury and accidents. Accidents harm our people, and people are the key to our success. Which is why Vogel Bros. defines accidents as Waste. All this waste certainly can’t be improving customer value.

At Vogel Bros., we have taken steps to eliminate this waste. Towards the end of the project, the yard supervisor reviews the excess materials on the site and determines which materials can be returned to the yard. Amazingly enough it is usually less than 25% of the unused materials. The other 75% is either donated, recycled, thrown out, or in some cases, delivered to the owner as added stock.

This simple adjustment in the process and analysis has had a dramatic result. We are no longer hauling unusable material to the yard, thereby eliminating the excess handling, transportation, inventory, and accident exposure. Eliminating these wastes have provided a safer, more efficient work environment, and therefore has improved value for our customers.