QubicaAMF implements lean manufacturing at Lowville plant

The QubicaAMF bowling pin plant in Lowville has been implementing lean manufacturing practices over the past year and a half. Photo by Steve Virkler/Watertown Daily Times.

LOWVILLE — While the bowling pins and lanes made at the QubicaAMF plant haven’t gotten leaner over the past year and a half, the manufacturing process has.

Employees at the Utica Boulevard plant, at which most of the world’s wooden bowling pins are manufactured, have been undergoing lean manufacturing training and implementation sessions conducted by CITEC Inc., Potsdam, using Regional Wood Products Consortium funding through the Northern Forest Center in Concord, N.H.

“QubicaAMF has set a fine example of a wood products company willing to change and put in the work to make it happen,” Collin A. Miller, consortium coordinator and director of wood products initiatives at the Northern Forest Center, said in an article released by the New Hampshire nonprofit. “That’s the kind of innovation that will keep wood product manufacturing strong in the region.”

The consortium, which covers Northern New York as well as Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, in 2010 and 2011 sponsored a series of workshops for wood-product manufacturers on ways to improve marketing, technology use, lean manufacturing, mass customization and green marketing. They were attended by representatives of 120 companies, including QubicaAMF, Mr. Miller said by telephone.

That ultimately made the Virginia-based company eligible for matching grant funds, he said.

The plant’s leadership team participated in a “Lean for Leaders” course, while some department supervisors took a “Lean White Belt” certification course that included both off-site classroom activities and on-site “kaisen” — “the Japanese word for continuous improvement — sessions facilitated by CITEC.

“Lean is commonly defined as a system and philosophy for minimizing the steps that don’t add value to the product during manufacturing,” the article states. “Anything that a customer is not willing to pay for, such as transportation, overhead and waiting is minimized wherever possible.”

Kaisen sessions at the plant, which employs 98 people and uses eight to 10 truckloads of hard maple lumber per week, resulted in a complete overhaul of the stockroom and machine repair shop, as well as improving the assembly process for the bowling lane in “Highway 66,” an arcade bowling game, it adds.

“Highway 66” improvements included cleaning and painting the workbench, installing coiled air hoses from above to eliminate extra motion and reaching, placing “ergo mats” on the floor and eliminating cabinets and shelves in the assembly area that were filled with broken and obsolete tools, according to the article.

The changes are expected to save 35 minutes at setup and five to 10 minutes at shutdown, equating to 12 days of savings per year and an annual reduction in cost equivalent to nearly $4,000.

“The major reason to simplify all this was that virtually anyone now can walk into this area and start to work without having to ask around for where things are and what instructions need to be followed,” Josh Nicol, shipping and receiving supervisor at the plant and the lead for “Highway 66” assembly, said in the release. “To a large degree, it has taken the guesswork out and simplified the whole process, which in the long run saves time and money and makes for a cleaner, safer and more productive work environment.”

Anyone with interest in receiving similar help from CITEC may contact Business Development Director Rob Oram at 777-0556 or roram@citec.org.

More information on the Regional Wood Products Consortium is available at www.foresteconomy.org

-Steve Virkler, Watertown Daily Times staff writer