Why did Kaas Tailored start making PPE?

In this series, Jeff Kaas explains what the Kaas Tailored team has learned about continuous improvement as we transitioned from making furniture to making PPE during the COVID-19 global pandemic. In our first episode, we explain why Kaas Tailored started making PPE. Today, Jeff talks about how Kaas Tailored pivoted from a well-built process to a new one.

Every year I do a forecast and try to predict a little bit of the future. My forecast always includes bad things that might happen, and an epidemic or pandemic has been in my forecast for a number of years. A preamble to the story is that it is important to be aware of the laws of nature and know that human beings occasionally face difficult things, like pandemics. This foresight enabled our team to be thinking about some of our options before we hit crisis mode and helped us to be able to react. Even in February 2020, maybe even January, I had a little bit of concern when we started seeing what was happening in China with COVID-19. 

The people at Providence came to the world and said, “There is a big problem that we can’t solve with our current methods, so we’re creating the 100 Million Mask challenge.” I believe we learned about that on March 18th. I sent a text message to them saying: “I have a factory. I’m going to be helping as many health care systems with my factory as I can. We’re all in. If it isn’t you guys, you better tell me soon because I will find somebody else.” They took me seriously, thankfully. By the next morning, on the 19th of March, we were designing and making PPE prototypes. 

By the end of the day on the 19th, we released all the digital data to our friends in Holland at Design on Stock, and they started building our prototypes that night. The next morning on the 20th, we were three days into the PPE world, not even knowing what that was.

Shields and masks, that’s what our PPE is, at least our current version of it. We were building with our friends in Holland; I received training videos on the 20th from our friends at Design on Stock. I think some of the masks got into the Dutch healthcare system around the same time as they did for us.

That’s how we started making PPE during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Those of you who have been here before might have heard me say, “Look, we have a kitchen, and we don’t want to be baking bread ahead of time until we know what our customers want.” This idea of having a Toyota philosophy, or one-piece flow, is working to the pull. Our airplane customers and furniture customers stopped pulling, and Providence started pulling. All we really did was use our kitchen to start making cookies instead of cake.

Yes, it was hard, but the simple answer is, our mindset and our values were embodied in much of our factory, and we were able to transition to making PPE really quickly.

In March of 2020, Providence Health and Services started the 100 Million Mask Challenge. The hope was to reach out to the local community to help create much-needed PPE due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Within a few days, Providence and Kaas Tailored formed a partnership to rapidly produce face shields and masks for caregivers. As the new normal settled in, we realized how much we missed hosting guests in our factory and leading Waste Tours. Jeff Kaas hosted a Zoom Call in early June and asked participants to send in their questions about waste and continuous improvement so that he could share what we have learned about continuous improvement as we transitioned from making furniture to making PPE

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