Honey Bee harvests lean success

May 21, 2009   by Corinne Lynds

What do you do when business is so good, orders have outstripped your capacity on the shop floor and there isn’t much time to ramp up production to meet the increased demand?

That’s the challenge Honey Bee Manufacturing Ltd. faced last year. The Saskatchewan manufacturer of tractor attachments had less than a month to solve the problem, but being about a year into a lean manufacturing transformation, the company was in a good position to tackle the challenge.

Honey Bee manufactures tractor attachments called headers and swathers, used in cereal and grain harvesting.

Its business “surplus” was the result of a boom in the agricultural market, which meant production had to be quickly ramped up by 87% to meet a 971-unit goal in eight-months.

Located in Frontier, roughly 280 kilometres from the nearest Starbucks, Honey Bee manufactures headers and swathers used in cereal and grain harvesting.

Brothers Greg and Glen Honey formed their company after developing a solution for a pesky machinery problem. The header on their combine didn’t feed the machine evenly or follow the terrain all that well.

Greg retrofitted a header and attached it to a tractor in his own shop. Doing so, he realized he could build one that would eliminate the problems he and other farmers faced. By 1982 Honey Bee had sold its first swather, and Greg became president of the company.

Some 28 years later demand for headers and swathers continues to grow. Although globalization has affected equipment manufacturers adversely, says Jerry Engel, president of the Agricultural Equipment Manufacturers Association of Canada, foreign interest in North American-made agricultural equipment is a key business driver for many companies.

Honey Bee has certainly harvested the benefits of this increased demand. “We’re going gang-busters here, and we find ourselves having to turn away business,” says Honey. “More people are growing cereal crops and wheat in Eastern Europe and they want to buy North American equipment.”

In December 2007, Honey and his management team were determined not to turn away anymore business and set their “Destination 971” goal.

“It was in the middle of December that we recognized we needed to build 971 machines from Jan. 3 through to Aug. 30,” says Jamie Pegg, manager of support and services as well as lean team leader at Honey Bee.

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