GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Continuous improvement is the backbone of manufacturing processes and the responsibility of production managers around the world, including Audrey Oswalt, B.S.’19, an assistant production manager at GA Richards in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Oswalt is part of a hand-picked team implementing the plan-do-check-act process in the manufacturing of furniture.
It’s her knack for problem-solving that landed her in the role.
“I’m responsible for continuous improvement projects, the flow of parts through the plant, maintenance of tools and problem-solving,” says Oswalt.
She adds the biggest challenge she faces is figuring out ways to eliminate bottlenecks in the plant, sometimes caused by parts that are nonconforming. It is not always the easiest problem to solve, but Oswalt is up to the challenge.
“I have always found ways that we could make the parts in specifications and out the door,” explains Oswalt, adding one of her continuous improvement projects that helped the plant was the labeling and documenting of all the American press tools. “By doing that, we have been able to identify tools needed for certain parts faster and anyone is able to pull the tools.”
Of all the varied tasks on busy days, one of the most interesting experiences of her time at GA Richards was touring the Herman Miller chair factory at the main plant.
“I was given a tour of their plant, assembly line and how product flows through the plant. Their product line was very clean and had great standardized work and procedures that I have tried to implement in my own plant,” she says.
Oswalt began her career at GA Richards as a quoting engineer, overseeing quotes for the specials at Herman Miller furniture. With a downturn in sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, Oswalt was assigned to document a new operations system and execute the training to all plant personnel. During this time, her problem-solving skills were recognized by both the leaders at Herman Miller and the owner of GA Richards.
“I was asked to join a team created by Herman Miller to learn problem-solving techniques and apply them to projects around the GA Richards plant,” says Oswalt. “I was then approached by the owner of my company to be the assistant production manager because of my knowledge of the new system, my problem-solving background, my personality and my work ethic.”
Now Oswalt is busy ensuring the smooth operation of the plant processes she oversees, working on overproduction and an inventory system to help with material waste.
“I want to have some type of barcode system that will be attached with the new system. If every part had a scannable label, the inventory system would be even easier. This will save time in multiple departments and will allow us to make parts that need to be run through lasers and turrets versus running parts that are already on the floor,” she explains.
That project, will take a lot of planning, doing, checking and acting—and this Bronco engineer is ready for the challenge.
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