Gulf Stream’s Lean Approach
The speed with which Gulf Stream Coach Inc.’s motorized division developed the new Class B Touring Cruiser and added the four-slide Quattro floorplan to its Yellowstone, Friendship, Tour Master and Scenic Cruiser Class A diesel brands is a testament to the company’s commitment to “lean manufacturing.”
Neither the B Touring Cruiser nor the Quattro option existed – even as doodles on paper – as recently as October. Both, however, were offered as prototypes to dealers at the Louisville Show in late November and were in production by the end of December.
“Lean manufacturing is a pretty simple concept – eliminating waste in all areas of the company,” said Co-President Brian Shea. “But there are very specific methods for doing that. You analyze the product flow through your system and then map out areas of waste.”
Shea said lean manufacturing leads to closer ties with suppliers, less time on the production line and enhanced ability to design and change models more quickly to respond to the market.
“Our traditional method was to produce products and push them out to the dealership,” he said. “We now have a ‘pull’ system that allows us to make deliveries more quickly.
“We began by rearranging our plant in a cellular fashion. We eliminated steps and motion that an operator has to go through.
“All of a sudden, we had more manufacturing space in the same square footage. And there is less obsolescence when we make model changes. We don’t have to carry old product that you can get left with – blue fabric that didn’t move very well, or something a product manager ordered too much of,” he explained.
Those were among the reasons Gulf Stream was able to bring the B Touring Cruiser and Quattro floor plan to the market so quickly.
Gulf Stream’s first entry into the Class B market – the B Touring Cruiser – is priced from $50,000 and $60,000 to compete with sport utility vehicles.
The Touring Cruiser is built on a Ford 350 cutaway chassis with a Ford 5.4-liter V-8 engine. The frame is welded aluminum, with fiberglass sidewalls, roof, front cap and wings.
The Quattro floor plan is among the first 4-slide floorplans in the industry. It offers opposing flush-floor living-room and kitchen slideouts in the living area and a large bedroom slideout and smaller entertainment center slideout in the rear quarters.
“Lean manufacturing allowed us to design, test and produce the B Touring Cruiser and the Quattro very quickly,” said Shea, whose closely held, family-run business is located in Nappanee, Ind.
Lean manufacturing also has changed the corporate philosophy at what is the largest privately owned RV manufacturer in the country, he said.
“We were more of a batch builder,” he explained. “A lot of times at the end of a model year we’d have things left that people didn’t want to buy. Now we are building everything to order. We are asking our dealers not to forecast sales as much. We are asking them to order product as they need it because we can turn it around much more quickly.”
Switching to a just-in-time inventory system was one component. “When you have inventory sitting on your floor, it is not adding value to the product,” Shea said.
Production time has been cut by an average of 12 days, he said, and turnaround from order to delivery now is about four to 10 weeks.
Gulf Stream’s lean management has not gone unnoticed by the state of Indiana. The company received the state’s Governor’s Award for Recycling in 2001.
“We’ve reduced the amount of waste and we have recycled a lot of material,” Shea said. “We bring in supplies now without them being packed in cardboard.
We also work with suppliers to get reusable skids. We’ve reduced the amount of waste that we take out to the landfill.
“It is an environmental benefit, but it’s also a cost savings.”