Success Stories

Funshine Express Increases Production and Lowers Costs through Lean Tools and Improved Plant Layout

Funshine Express

Funshine Express develops and manufactures innovative preschool curriculum kits for preschool teachers and childcare providers. Similar in concept to a lesson plan that includes patterns and craft supplies, this Dickinson, N.D., business provides a wide range of learning materials for early childhood professionals. This company believes children learn by doing! The materials and activities are targeted to children ages two to five

 Inefficient Production Process and Lack of Space

In 1995, Beth Strube, President, started Funshine Express. The operation began with two employees running the business out of their homes. First year orders averaged 50 kits per month. By 2002, Funshine Express had 14 full-time staff and several part-time staff. In Spring 2000, a 4,000 sq. ft. building was purchased at 1409 West Villard.

Currently, this fast-growing business sells approximately 2,500 kits per month (about 18,000 children) and has customers in all 50 states. Strube says 98% of the business comes from outside of North Dakota. Gross sales for 2001 were $850,000. 

Rapid growth provided many challenges in terms of staffing, facilities and equipment. Within one year of relocating to the building on West Villard, the customer base had grown so much that Funshine Express was running out of room. Raw materials, product that was in-process, excess inventory resulting from overproduction, and inefficient production processes took up considerable space. Strube was also concerned about issues such as ergonomics and safety, plus she wanted to lower the intensive labor costs involved in producing the kits. 

Lean Tools, Plant Layout

Funshine Express staff attended a Lean Manufacturing 101 workshop in the Fall of 2000. Strube says they left the training with a fresh perspective and knew they needed to make changes, but they were not sure how to begin. After all, their backgrounds were in education and business--not manufacturing! Concepts familiar to industrial engineers and manufacturing specialists were foreign. 

Upon the recommendation of the Southwest Dakota Manufacturer's Roundtable, Strube contacted Impact Dakota. Impact Dakota developed a working partnership with Strube that would make Funshine Express more efficient. 

While at Funshine Express, an Impact Dakota consultant watched the operations and listened to the issues. He helped the Funshine team evaluate their production processes, formulate goals and implement changes. Specifically, Funshine changed the entire flow of production so it flowed smoothly through the whole building. They added shelving for more efficient storage, worked out details to eliminate overproduction and excess inventory by lowering batch sizes, and built in countless small efficiencies. The production line was balanced. Time was spent cleaning and organizing to gain much needed space and move supplies closer to the areas where they were being used, thus saving steps and eliminating unnecessary movement. Plus, step-by-step visuals were added along the line to assist the assembly staff.

 Increased Production Capabilities and Improved Layout

  • Extended time in West Villard building
  • Increased production from 1,450 kits per month to 2,400 kits per month
  • Added five employees
  • Lowered costs
  • Encouraged a sense of teamwork

"By making these changes we have borrowed an additional few years in the West Villard building and have taken steps toward lowering costs. We view the entire Lean Manufacturing model as an ongoing process.

Through all of these changes, the Impact Dakota team has been incredible source of enthusiasm and professional knowledge. They have gone out of their way to offer assistance and advice through phone calls, letters, and follow-up visits. They have challenged us to look in directions that we were not always comfortable with, but directions that have been ultimately valuable for our company.

Growth goals for the Fall of 2002 are to reach approximately 3,200 to 3,500 orders per month. We should be able to accomplish that in our present location, with some additional cold storage offsite. In the Fall of 2003, we plan to add another complete product line of curriculum materials for Early Pre-Kindergarten children. At that time, we will most likely put our knowledge of Lean Manufacturing through all sorts of new hoops and loops!"

-- Beth Strube, President, Funshine Express, Inc

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