The door is wide open to client-induced innovation at SnapCab

Written by Vincent Lussiez, on 12 February 2020


Excellence in Operations has always been a goal for Glenn, founder and CEO of SnapCab. After several years in business, renovating elevator interiors, experimenting different solutions and approaches in order to simplify and streamline processes, the SnapCab team decided to build a LEAN framework that would transform its practices at work in order to improve quality and guarantee customer satisfaction at all times. Today they have reached a point in their journey where they take pride in organizing events like a tour of the factory for externals enabling them to collect feedback and challenge their operating system. Anyone can visit the facility for free and see what is accomplished every day. This is a striking example of continuous improvement at work.

Back in February 2016, I went on a field trip to visit SnapCab, a small family owned corporation located in Pennsylvania and specialized in designing and renovating elevators’ cabin interior.

The company started a LEAN journey few years prior in order to improve quality and customer satisfaction. At the time I met with them, they had reached a milestone in terms of transformation: they were organizing (and still are) free tours of their facility for externals. Not necessarily for people in relation to their unique business, but also for people interested in seeing some of the principles of LEAN and how SnapCab customizes and applies them to many processes in and out of production. Glenn, the CEO, explained that this initiative induced more opportunities to learn and improve the company processes. Today, larger corporations like Toyota, Isuzu or even Zappos are sending over some of their best employees to discover SnapCab, share practices and talk about the never-ending work of continuous improvement.

We help the world at large while truly learning ourselves by teaching others. - The Lean Team at SnapCab

After a quick welcome session where I learnt a little more about the history of the company and the program they had created to support their LEAN transformation (the “recipe for success” as the CEO calls it), two employees whose time had been carefully scheduled to make it fit in their agenda took n the production floor. Originally, tours were conducted on the production floor only. As the program evolved, it grew to include the office space area and a rotation schedule had been created to allow more employees to participate.

Here is a glimpse of what I could see:

The office environment

The office space I saw was very clean, quiet and studious. “Continuous Improvement” boards were posted here and there. Very standardized 5S practices spread across many desks. An ingenious colored cup system (green, yellow, red) had been deployed to give information about the workload of each employee. The cup sat on a stand overlooking one person’s workstation. Even the desk layout was standardized to allow flexibility. This gave employees the possibility to easily back-up each other or to share a large amount of workload, jumping from one workstation to another without losing time looking for paper files or office supplies.

Also, all employees were wearing the same white company T-Shirt bearing this information:

  • On the front: Employee First Name, “Process Engineer” job title for all
  • On the back: The SnapCab Mission Statement with the 8 “deadly” wastes for the company

The production environment

On the production floor, surprisingly, we could talk freely with any Operator taking on his/her time to describe his/her role. We could feel their pride in showing us what they accomplished over 1 or 2 years, especially when we realized their solutions were very simple and practical. Pragmatism seems to be an important part of their “problem solving” approach.

Even though their primary source of raw materials is wood, they were making lots of efforts to maintain their work environment clean. Here again, I could see a very strong 5S program in place with good evidence of standardization and sustainability (boards were updated, indicators were accurate…). Also, they had developed many Kanban systems across the floor to make their work “smarter”.

It's SnapCab's intention to create space for communities of usefulness, both inside our own company and within the organizations we serve. - Alison Grange, Senior Marketing Manager

Walking through the plant, I could feel a very high sense of belonging coming from most of the employees. Implementing so many LEAN tools requires full engagement from the workforce from day one. Being at the point where they welcome externals to receive feedback also means they are open, curious and proactively look at all opportunities to continuously improve their work. This is a very smart way to bring in innovation: innovation from outside in. They don’t necessarily act upon every single idea or suggestion they receive, but at least they bring them up during their daily meetings to discuss the opportunity and its feasibility or relevance.

At the time I visited the facility the next big move for SnapCab was to go digital. They started with the implementation of standardized work instruction videos. Small wooden display prototypes were mounted on few machines with pictures, process descriptions and printed 2D bar-codes. Scanning the bar-code with a tablet or smartphone launched one of the new standardized work instruction videos!

The CEO later mentioned that they were working on installing tablets everywhere on the production floor, as a new tool for Operators. After going LEAN they were now going Industry .

At the end of the tour, we met again for more questions and answers and to provide on the spot feedback to the employees who guided us through the facility. As an example, it was said that they could use even more visuals to simply report information and action plan status update.

As far I am concerned, visiting SnapCab gave me tons of ideas for immediate implementation in my own business. The daily tour on the production floor involving all managers was on top of that list.

As digitization is getting more and more traction all around us, our final discussion was also a good time to reflect together about the very strong foundation LEAN can be for any business. The rapid expansion of technology in manufacturing enables many new ways to gain productivity, to eliminate process wastes, to simplify or significantly reduce repetitive tasks, to gather valuable customer insights. But this LEAN journey taught them to do it with the employees, for the employees, for the company and the community they serve. The facility tour is one example of this shift in paradigm SnapCab was able to capture very well.