BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In 2009, the Mentholatum Company, faced
challenges in meeting targeted production levels of its
non-prescription pharmaceutical and health care products.
Officials at the Orchard Park headquarters of the global
health-and-wellness company needed to improve the capacity and
overall effectiveness of the business in a way that would support
their strategic plan.
With the help of the University at Buffalo's TCIE, which
provides the business community access to UB's engineering
resources, Mentholatum's leadership decided to give the Lean
methodology a try; the continuous improvement methodology maximizes
customer value while minimizing waste.
Since implementing a Lean initiative with TCIE's guidance,
changes and improvements in business processes have produced the
following advancements at Mentholatum:
- Changeover time for a manufacturing process involving a tube
filler was cut in half and its throughput increased by 100 percent,
with no capital expenses involved.
- Production delays, travel distance and time, and direct labor
costs decreased in the warehouse staging area.
- An approval process that used to take months to complete now
finishes within days or even hours.
- Lower inventory levels can be maintained with quicker
changeover and greater performance reliability, resulting in lower
In addition, overall productivity has increased, including a
jump of 30 percent for the lip balm filling manufacturing line
Mentholatum leaders say TCIE's training and expert assistance
over the last two-and-a-half years is just the start of their "Lean
journey," which has had a positive impact on employee culture.
Combined with the support of upper management, a culture of
continuous improvement and Lean principles has emerged at
"When they see things turn around, employees are re-energized
and they're connected," said Harold Pearson, second-shift plant
superintendent. "The teamwork is there, and so is a sense of
The pilot project, which sparked the company's pursuit of
continuous improvement, was an activity called Value Stream
Mapping. The activity involved analyzing steps of the company's
process for approving new products, followed by project team
members generating ideas for improvement.
Eight employees from different departments were chosen to be
Mentholatum's internal team of Lean practitioners. They completed
training and undertook projects as part of TCIE's Certified Lean
Professional program. The process allowed the company to identify
areas that could be streamlined, spawning a series of
In 2010, the company brought in TCIE's Executive-on-Loan program
to focus on strategic initiatives. The TCIE Lean expert spends time
every month, onsite, integrating Lean tools to help management
reach its goals, whether it is boosting operational efficiencies or
Kevin Aylsworth, director of engineering and maintenance at the
company, noted that the Executive-on-Loan's flexibility meets
scheduling needs of a three-shift operation.
"Working with TCIE is very easy. It's been a nice partnership.
TCIE's schedule is very accommodating," he said. "They're here when
we need them. They really have a boots-on-the-ground approach."
The Executive-on-Loan program is available to companies for
other improvement methodologies as well, including Six Sigma and
ISO (International Organization for Standardization).
At Mentholatum, measures to assess performance are being refined
and identified under the executive-on-loan's guidance. It's an
important activity according to Aylsworth, because "without
metrics, you are not going to know what you have to do. We are
using metrics to measure quantifiable progress and sustain our
Dedicated work teams are now a staple for the production lines
that represent the majority of Mentholatum's business. The practice
hinges on creating a core group of experts for a work line.
"It makes it a more efficient operation," said John DeJac,
production manager, noting that early skepticism among employees
reversed once benefits started surfacing. "We have better
troubleshooting with dedicated work teams."
The Lean methodology is increasing communication with the
implementation of regular team meetings. Thanks to the process
called 5S that efficiently organizes work spaces, production tools
are labeled and have their proper place, eliminating time once
wasted searching for items.
"People are thinking about work with a Lean mentality,"
Aylsworth said. "Planning involves elimination of waste and
designing items with the end in sight."
A program of the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences,
TCIE is Western New York's bridge to excellence by providing a
dynamic link between UB's expert resources and the region's
business community. TCIE's core focus on operational excellence
drives continuous improvement, and its engineering solutions ignite
innovation and technological advancement. For more information on
how TCIE can assist Western New York businesses, go to UB TCIE or call
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