top of page

Designing the "Rubber Factory"

Funny thing about customers, they seldom seem to place orders on our enterprise that supports level loading or the kind of mix model that our Value Streams seem to like Of course we employ a suite of tools to absorb that erratic demand, such as Lean, Hyjunkia, one piece flow etc.

several years ago Brian Clements who was then the VP of Manufacturing at Steelcase Canada came up with a very simple concept the “Rubber Factory” or "Shock Absorber"

The Rubber Factory allows you to reallocate resources with a structured methodology through pre-planning which results in fewer disturbances to flow Think of this methodology like the pre planning practice that many organizations use for emergency

Brian took the concept of Lean to a whole new level, he truly embraced the notion that there are no titles in a Lean Enterprise and that every employee needs to focus on supporting the customer from a customer’s perspective

Here is what Brian in essence did First he cross trained every employee in the organization to be able to perform a value add task in the Value Stream Then like the design of a modern HVAC system that shuts down certain operations to control energy costs, Brian designed an employee reallocation model that woke based on incoming customer demand for the

If incoming demand exceeded the norm for the day, the organization would reallocate the engineers to work on the lines, if this was not enough then the mechanics would be reassigned and added to the work force … this would continue throughout the organization including the use of the sales force and even the President The only person not deployed to the factory floor was the receptionist who still maintained the voice to the customer for that day

There was a lot of power in this model that went beyond supporting the customer It completely blurred the lines between management and the team members on the floor In many cases it allowed the technical disciplines within the organization to spend an extended period of time working and observing a specific operation We are traditionally very good at jumping into a problem area and then invoking a solution … but how often do we spend time in a seemingly well run operation to see how we can make it better, safer or simplier?

Another company, took it a step further and closed their maintenance department and included the Mill wrights as bona fide team members and was amazed with the results These Mill Wrights were used to identify and implement solutions As they worked on specific operations that naturally began to implement simple solutions that made work for the Team Members safer and in many cases simplier

The concept of Rubber Factory also supports another greatPrincipal within the Toyota Production System, asking employees. To work for a period of time in a non traditional role. This forces The employee to work using outside eyes stimulating Suggestions for improvement.

Take some time to design your “Rubber Factory” and make sure you run the model at least 3 times per year … it is fun, supports erratic customer demand, breaks down barriers and gives people an additional opportunity to see operations up close and personal.


We do more than just blog. We're active Lean practitioners who would love to help you achieve your productivity goals.

bottom of page