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THE ART OF MANUFACTURING
By Ron Chase

THE LEAN JOURNEY

Part 1 - What do we do first?

This is the third in a continuing series of Manufacturing related articles.  We have thus far discussed my early fascination with “things that are built” and have created a fairy tale concerning Lean Manufacturing.  This article will begin a series of articles on the realities of creating a “Lean Environment” in Manufacturing companies.

I am no expert in Lean Enterprise methodologies (I prefer to use “Enterprise” in lieu of “Manufacturing”, because it connotes the entire company, not just Manufacturing).  I have helped to create programs that promoted teams at all levels of an organization, that set up “Flow Manufacturing” lines, that involved SPC in improving quality and consistency, that produced “Value Stream Maps” of a process, that used 5S as a method of organization and identification, that improved Supplier Management, that located and included “Bottlenecks” in the analysis of proper manufacturing flow, etc., but I am not an expert in Lean Enterprise.

I have been to several Lean workshops, training sessions, seminars, etc., that were led by so-called “Lean Experts”, and the one thing that sticks out is that there are very, very few real experts, if any.  The primary reason for this is that there are relatively few Manufacturing companies that have fully implemented a Lean program.  There certainly are many experienced and well-thought of persons who have been involved in or led “parts of a Lean program”, but to be thought of as an expert, would mean that at least one, preferably several, Lean programs would have been completed by this person.  This alone is an almost impossible task, because a full-fledged Lean program can easily take a company at least two years and probably more, and it is, as we have often learned from our continuous improvement teachers, a never-ending task.  There are always more enhancements that we can do.

Why do I make such a noise concerning Lean experts?   Simply because the two most important issues that need to be resolved in beginning a Lean program are:

1)       Get top down agreement, total agreement from management, no lip service, that the company is committed to a long term effort,  and . . .

2)       Locate and enlist the help of a Lean expert to train you, facilitate your efforts, and possibly lead your whole program, and make sure that this person has “been there, done that” and not just been educated in Lean practices.

These two items must be completed to get the kind of start that you will need to invigorate yourselves against the inevitable “bumps in the road” which will include such things as business downturns, large increases in sales, acquisitions, loss of key personnel, etc.  Do not kid yourself, this is the most difficult program you will ever attempt!  Although not impossible to do without either one or both of these items, the Lean program would be at best a very long shot.

When you have been successful at completing these initial two items, you need to do several things that either parallel or overlap each other.  These are:

  • Select a Lean champion from your organization (this can be the Lean expert mentioned above, but is much more conducive to your success if this person comes from your organization).

  • Develop a Lean implementation plan that includes a timeline and scope of effort for classroom training, on-the-job training/implementation, and Lean projects.  This plan should also include methodologies for developing baselines, creating metrics, and tracking improvement results.  This plan must become a part of your overall business plan.

  • Select one area (only one at first, start small, as defined in the plan above) to begin Lean implementation.  This would almost always be a 5S effort since this is the simplest of the Lean practices.

  • Make this first effort a success and then advertise it to the whole organization.  Success breeds success and visual examples are the best way of communicating success.  Use the early successes as a springboard to more and more complex efforts.

  • Be very focused in tracking results of your efforts versus your plan, whether the results are what was forecast or not.  Mistakes and failures will happen, but be prepared to use them as lessons learned and to persevere in your program.

  • The most important thing to remember is to continue the program, once significantly delayed or discarded, the next effort is made much more difficult to sell.

  • As you make productivity improvements, instead of losing personnel, assign them to your internal “Office of Continuous Improvement” and let them work on further improvements.  Most companies find that this adds such overall improvement as to more than offset that person’s cost to the company, and, if it does not pay for itself, make small personnel adjustments later (remember that these programs come under great scrutiny by employees and large personnel reductions can derail your overall efforts).

  • Benchmark your company with the best you can find in your industry or similar industries - It is always a good practice to not only measure against your own internal objectives, but to compare to the best out there.

One last point, you may be at a place where you are unsure of how to proceed, or whether you really want to undertake a full Lean program.  I highly recommend that you consider sending all of your senior and middle management through a comprehensive Lean training class or workshop.  The good ones usually last for at least two days and up to five days (If you are a Boeing, Lockheed Martin, or Honeywell supplier, they often offer free Lean training and even some implementation help - you only pay to get to the training site or they may possibly come to your site - so you should check with your buyer to find out if such training is available).  There are so many things to understand and discuss relating to this endeavor, and having this group go through the training and understanding should give you the necessary information and answers needed to make your decision.

We at our company have started this process by doing the things mentioned above and, although not easy, we now have a good roadmap to guide us.  We have commitment, we have a plan, we have our Lean champion and our Lean expert, we have some training (need more), and we have begun some elemental 5S projects.  We are only a few months into this effort and realize that we have a long, long way to go.  The potential rewards make this effort well worthwhile.


About the Author:

Ron Chase is a Fellow of The Business Forum Association and is currently Vice President of Operations for Ducommun Technologies, Inc. (DTI), a division of Ducommun Incorporated, a Long Beach based corporation.  DTI designs and manufactures lighted and microwave switches, motors, and resolvers for various commercial, aerospace, and space applications. 

Ron has a BSME from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a Masters Degree in Management from Georgia College, earned while on assignment with the United States Air Force in Warner Robins AFB, Georgia.  Ron flew several different aircraft in the USAF, including a stint as an Instructor in the T-38 Talon and the T-43 Navigator trainer aircraft (Boeing 737 modified for USAF use).  As part of a USAF engineering assignment, Ron also flew in both the F-4 Phantom and F-15 Eagle aircraft while evaluating sidewinder missile performance.

Ron’s career contains both engineering and operations assignments in defense, aerospace, and commercial manufacturing companies, and one significant tour as head of Consulting Operations for the California Manufacturing Technology Center (CMTC), headquartered in Southern California.  CMTC is a non-profit state and federally subsidized company, which provides manufacturing consulting to small and medium sized companies in California


Previous Articles from Ron Chase 

The Art of Manufacturing
The Lean Mean Green Machine


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