Issue Summer 13
A well-designed office with quality, comfortable furniture is a key part of ensuring high employee morale. Not only must office furniture be structurally sound, functional and contribute to productivity, it also should be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Kimball Office strives to include all of these attributes in the products it sells to government, financial, university and law clients, which has fueled its success for nearly 40 years.
Based in Jasper, Ind., but with a manufacturing facility in Post Falls, Idaho, Kimball Office is a division of Kimball International and the only manufacturing arm of the company that produces metal office furniture for Kimball International and its sister company, National Office Furniture. Kimball Office also produces wood furniture.
“Our Post Falls plant is broken into two focus factories: systems, which are cubicles, and metal storage products,” Director of Operations Michele Lemelin says. “Each is headed by a focus factory manager and within each focus factory we have value streams. Systems has two value streams and metal storage has four – filing, pedestals, overhead storage and storage towers.
Kimball Office doesn’t work with end users too frequently, unless the products require modifications or there are special orders. “Simple modifications include making products taller or shorter or working around structural aspects of their buildings,” Lemelin explains. “An example of a special request is one order we received from an architecture firm. Our filing cabinets are 36-inches deep, but they wanted to store rolled-up architectural drawings in them, so we modified them to be much deeper.”
Regardless of what kind of client Kimball Office is working with or if the order is standard or special, the company is dedicated to consistently delivering the highest-quality products. Lemelin explains that continuous improvement is key throughout the company’s operation and that it has embraced lean manufacturing.
“All of our employees go through a 40-hour Lean 101 program, and more than 100 of our employees have gone through a 90-day lean internship,” she says. “We have 94 certified kanban leaders and 70 of the people who have gone through the internship are still working with us. A couple of years ago we started targeted kaizan events, and last year we started a standard work process program.”
She notes that this focus on lean has led to the company’s continued manufacturing excellence, and has resulted in capabilities that set it apart. “We’re able to provide modifications seamlessly and with a short lead time–in as little as three weeks,” she says.
All of its efforts in continuous improvement have helped Kimball Office maintain a high level of quality in its products and throughout its operations, especially as there are changes in the office furniture market. Lemelin notes that she has heard for years that everyone will be converting to paperless offices, but paper is still very much in use. Even so, consumers are using office furniture in different ways, and Kimball Office understands that.
“There has been a reduction in paper use, so people don’t need as many filing cabinets as they have in the past, but there is a need for other types of storage because office workers still need a place to put their stuff,” she says. “Now, cabinets may not necessarily be for paper storage, but they are being used for personal storage.”
The company also has responded to the market demand for sustainable products. In addition to providing its employees with sustainability training, building and renovating according to LEED standards and participating in industry and government sustainability programs, Kimball remains dedicated to sustainability in its processes and product design. Kimball Office designs new products with the Design for the Environment protocol, maintains the highest level of product attributes for indoor air quality and has implemented Forest Stewardship Council certification for its products. All of its manufacturing operations also are ISO 14001 certified and the company has developed sustainability strategies throughout its supply chain.
In fact, every Kimball Office manufactured product is certified level 2 or 3 by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA). This includes all of the company’s casegoods, systems, tables and systems. Level 3 is the highest certification under the current ANSI/BIFMA program.
The BIFMA program establishes measurable performance criteria to address environmental aspects of product manufacturing throughout the supply chain.
“We’ve made many moves to become more sustainable,” Lemelin explains. “Over the years, we went from liquid to powder paint to lower the VOCs in our products, and our amount of waste water is down to nothing. In 2012, we recycled 87.8 .”