Panel Processing

Success with The Center

PANEL PROCESSING: Making Lean Dreams into a Reality

Since beginning our journey two years ago, lean has changed from being something that we would try, to now being implemented in our 13 manufacturing facilities around the country. Lean is becoming part of our culture.
-- Brad Matuzak, National Sales Manager

What started as a small pegboard plant in Alpena, Michigan in 1971 is today the largest wood panel fabricator in North America. Panel Processing ( now has 13 manufacturing plants in six states with 264 employees total, including 54 at their Michigan facility. Panel Processing fabricates and finishes various wood substrates to create products including slat wall, casework, cabinet components, laminated panels and more, establishing itself as a leader through its customization and experience to meet any customer need.


Having been exposed to lean principles in the past via trainers from Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center) at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), the executive team at Panel Processing was interested in incorporating lean into their facility but never took the first critical step. “Over the years we kept ‘trying lean,’ but not doing,” said National Sales Manager Brad Matuzak. As the company added more plants and examined the current market and competition, it recognized that now was the time to get lean. “The cabinet and retail segments were both going gangbusters over lean principles,” Matuzak added.


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In February 2017, Corey Morrison, corporate lean champion, and Matuzak finally committed to starting a lean transformation at Panel Processing, enrolling in NMC/The Center’s six-month Lean Manufacturing Champion course. Ultimately, they ended up focusing on improving just one specific process and line related to one of their largest customers, rather than trying to achieve a massive company-wide transformation immediately.

“We thought we knew what lean was, but we were overwhelmed by what we were exposed to,” said Morrison. The training session on SMED (Single-Minute Exchange of Die), a system for reducing equipment changeover time, ended up being their first lean implementation at the Alpena plant, but not the last. “Our project was one customer and one product, but now that we have the nuts and bolts of the implementation, we can transfer it to other applications.”

The company additionally used lean to tackle its tool storage issue – specifically, the time spent looking for tools – by applying the 5S workplace organization method to the work areas. Lean practices also had a big cultural impact on Panel Processing. “People on the shop floor are starting to realize the potential that is out there,” said Morrison. “[Lean] is starting to take hold.”


  • In 2017, the average cost for die changes at the Alpena plant was $37,900 (time converted to dollars), performing an average 3.2 die changes per day for a total of 3.38 hours. Two months into the new process implementation, this cost per die change decreased from $41.93 to $23.20. The average total cost reduction for 2018 is expected to be $18,300.
  • Nine of the 13 plants have implemented 5S for tool storage. On average, the company is experiencing a 15% reduction in set-up time due to 5S of the work areas.
  • Culture change: Employees are starting to think outside the box, dropping the mentality of “this is how we have always done it” and trying to think of ways to accomplish tasks differently.