Skip to content
Students working in ISE classroom

Built to Last

By David Goddard

Check out an update on the team’s progress in a recent article on the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Clayton Homes is one of the biggest, most well-known builders of manufactured homes in the US. It’s established itself as an industry leader, winning the Manufactured Housing Institute’s Retailer of the Year award 11 times in the last 12 years.

Founded in Maryville more than 50 years ago by alumnus Jim Clayton (BS EE ’62, JD ’64) and now led by his son Kevin, the company long ago established itself as an economic engine in East Tennessee.

But Clayton Homes had a problem. It sought to increase workflow and production and needed answers as to what the holdups were in its current process. That’s where ISE came into the picture.

Assistant Professor of Practice Floyd Ostrowski connected undergraduate students Clay Douglas, Sam Hornsby, Freeman Johnson, Elliot McCrary, and Will Cassetty with Clayton to tackle the company’s problems as their senior project.

Currently, Clayton produces seven to eight “floors” per day at its Rutledge location, a floor being one half of a completed house.

“Our first task was to find out which points of the process were the areas with the biggest time drags,” said Johnson. “We knew that once we had identified those places we would be able to help make adjustments and improve the flow.”

The team set up 10 time-lapse cameras around the manufacturing facility and recorded activity for 14 days. They then watched more than 417 hours of footage, checking to see how long each step in the production took and identifying the location and cause of any bottlenecks.

It soon became obvious to the students what the two biggest problems were: porches and the storage and handling of materials.

Clayton’s customers have the option of adding a porch, which, though a nice touch, adds build time to a typical house.

Our data revealed that 40 percent of the build time was spent with crews standing around. Additionally, we found that components that crews needed weren’t always near the stations where they were most often used, which added on time spent retrieving them and getting them where they needed to go.

Sam Hornsby

To eliminate the porch slowdown effect, the students recommended that Clayton schedule the builds of all houses with porches for certain days or times, greatly improving the overall production rate. Improving the storage locations of parts, alternating break times, and simplifying scheduling were other suggestions that the team made to improve product flow.

While the changes have already been implemented at the Rutledge plant, Ostrowski stressed how big the impact could be if Clayton adopts the new solutions throughout all their facilities.

“Under these suggestions, each of their 40 facilities could see an improvement of between 20 to 30 more houses per year,” said Ostrowski. “That means every year, another 800 to 1,200 families could have their own place to call home.”

Just another way that ISE students are changing the world—even before graduation.

Students at Clayton Homes

Challenging the Production Paradigm

By Rupy Sawhney

Industry is under constant pressure to be more competitive, leading to designs that burden an already stressed population. The result is an extremely low rate of sustainability of operational excellence initiatives.

ISE is challenging production paradigms that focus primarily on efficiency to include enhancing the quality of employee life as a key design variable. To address this issue, I have developed a sustainable Lean model that allows organizations to proliferate productivity based on reducing employee fatigue and stress.

ISE and Clayton Homes have developed a partnership not only to test this model, but also to provide a better work environment for employees. The model is being implemented at the company’s Rutledge plant over the next 11 months. The objective is to increase the productivity of manufactured homes by 25–30 percent while significantly reducing employees’ fatigue levels.

A survey of employees, footage of the work being performed, and Fitbit data from employees is being gathered to measure employee effort. Specifically, the number of steps walked and the number of bends made, among other things, are being recorded. In conjunction with production process changes made by Clayton, initial results indicate a productivity increase of more than 30 percent. In addition, employees are walking 56 percent less and bending 50 percent less to perform the same work as before. If the initial results hold true, it is possible to change how manufactured homes are produced.

The ISE team meets weekly with Clayton to review progress. Our team works with the company through a team of graduate students, including Abhay Bajpai, Prashanth Balasubramanian, Yudhisthir Patil, Aravind Satyanarayanan, Kshitij Sharma, and Vaikrant Pandav, several of whom will base their thesis on the project.

Undergraduates on the team include Conrad Troutman, Kaitlin Payne, Christopher Tanner Patrick, and Adam Glassman, who are using the project as their senior design class. This exposure to industry is invaluable to all the students to enhance their educational experience. Clayton Homes has also enhanced this experience by always welcoming the students to their site and taking the time to explain processes thoroughly.