Western Pallet Magazine May 2020 - Page 22



known for efficiency. We do great work, but honestly, people go into the lab and start working on their projects in an ad hoc manner. It's not like an industrial process where everything is organized, with standard operating procedures."

When he took over as director, the lab had long thrived on the time-honored approach of native intelligence. Highly experienced lab managers knew precisely where everything was - like a veteran mechanic who knows the location of each tool in his hopelessly cluttered shop. For someone new entering the laboratory, however, finding things could be daunting. Horvath says that he was initially frustrated, which culminated in a new approach to organizing and managing the lab.

Things have changed for the better. "We moved a lot of equipment around to create manufacturing cells to support testing," he continues. "We created standardized operating procedures for all significant activities, including energy control procedures and safety procedures." New students now require seven hours of training before they can enter the lab.

The organization of the lab includes standard lean features such as color-coding. Tools and their corresponding locations on the wall pegboard are color-matched with shadow markings to facilitate return of equipment to the correct place. "We make every single process, every single part of the lab

train for the culture." Students are exposed to lean for four years, so when they leave, it is part of their DNA. "When they go into a facility," he adds, "they need to have this type of structure."

Shortcomings in Horvath's educational journey have informed his approach. "I worked on industrial projects during my Ph. D. research, but I never gained management experience," he says. "I always felt that was a problem." At Virginia Tech, he wanted his students to gain management acumen.

Graduate students manage the day-to-day processes, while undergrads act as technicians in performing the testing projects. "The system works really well," he states. Involving the undergraduates in the lean program has proven to be highly successful. They love being able to "put their own touches" on the laboratory.

"When our graduates enter the workforce," Horvath states, "they don't just have great design experience." With their lean training, they are ready to integrate into lean corporate settings. Or if a lean culture isn't present, they start pushing for lean documentation. "It is quite unique for a university packaging program to focus on lean," he observes.