Dorset-based Plankbridge Limited manufactures Shepherd’s huts for use within the garden e.g. studio, office, guest bedroom, sauna, changing room for outdoor swimming pool, etc. The company was founded back in 2000 by Richard Lee and Jane Dennison, at a time when there was virtually no interest in Shepherd’s huts being remade for contemporary uses. However, Richard and Jane believed that they could bring an old Wessex tradition back to life and undertook numerous restoration jobs as they revealed the construction methods used in the production of the best huts of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The company has gone from strength to strength with their hand-built huts that are infused with craftsmanship of the past and now has a cult following. It has also recently enjoyed exposure on the BBC’s Countryfile and also displayed its own ‘Plankbridge Shepherd’s Hut Garden’, designed by Woolcott & Smith from Bishop’s Stortford, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for which the company won a Silver Medal at the end of May 2012.
Lean Workshop Objectives
As a result of media exposure, demand for Shepherd’s huts has risen sharply and the main objective of the Lean Workshop was to double the output of the factory while still keeping the craft production that has made the product so successful. The company had moved into a larger factory, but had simply expanded to fill the space available.
• Workshop was based on an initial 3-day workshop followed by 1-day of mentoring on a monthly basis.
• The theory of Lean was explained to the staff and this was followed by mapping out the processes and producing a string diagram of the activities involved in producing a typical Shepherd’s hut.
• The string diagram mapped all the distance travelled in collecting tools and equipment to make a hut and it was this that highlighted the layout problem and how this needed to change to improve efficiencies. Simply expanding to fill the new factory space had had a dramatic impact on reducing efficiencies.
• A new layout was designed that split the factory into four manufacturing cells each with its own team, tooling and material supply. This allowed the production outputs to be scaled-up without a negative influence on the culture of craftsmanship within the business.
• The business was therefore split into four manufacturing cells with a Team Leader for each. The cells were named after local rivers that the Team Leaders fish on a regular basis e.g. Frome, Piddle, Stour and Cerne to increase the ownership in the production outputs.
The Lean Workshop achieved exactly what it set out to do in that output has now increased at the company from 31 huts per year to 60 – a 94% increase in production! Further work is now being undertaken to investigate how production can be increased to 70 huts per year.
Richard Lee said: “I am really impressed with the results of the Lean Workshop and the way the process involved the whole team in designing new ways of working. It gains the buy-in from everyone and several methods for improving efficiencies were identified that came from members of staff.”
Neil Fedden, Principal Lean Consultant, added: “It is a real pleasure to work with such a progressive company and product as Plankbridge Ltd. The level of craftsmanship can only be understood when you actually see the product being built. I defy anyone not to smile broadly the first time they step inside one of the huts!”