As the article points out, Kentucky is quite the hotbed of lean manufacturing, with the influence of the Toyota Georgetown plant. Another company claims to have been at it longer, Hillerich and Bradsby, the maker of the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bats, who started their journey with W. Edwards Deming back in the 80’s:
“An NBC television program on W. Edwards Deming titled, ‘If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?’ stoked Jack Hillerich’s interest. In 1984, he and another company executive attended a seminar taught by Deming.
‘We said, ‘OK, the Asians are coming. We better improve the quality of the product,” says Hillerich. ‘We went to Deming’s seminar, and he didn’t talk about the quality of our product – not for one second. He talked about staying in business. He talked about the fact that if you don’t change, you won’t succeed and you won’t be here tomorrow. And, he talked about quality of management.
‘We were thinking that we needed to make our products a little bit better with more quality. We came away thinking that we needed to improve the overall quality of our company.’
Hillerich eventually sent 40 employees (20 from management and 20 from the union) to five-day Deming seminars.
Around the same time, he also instituted elements of Total Productive Maintenance, just-in-time manufacturing and Japan-style continuous improvement.
I love how they focused on getting better instead of making excuses that Japanese companies like Mizuno had an unfair advantage.
I love how their focus is on people, their employees, that Lean is a mindset, not a cost-cutting toolbox.
“We live this stuff every day,” says Hillerich. “It’s to the point where people on the plant floor aren’t even thinking about it, but they are doing it.”
Adds production coordinator Brian Hillerich, who is Jack’s nephew and Bob’s younger brother, “Continuous improvement has always been the mantra here.”
Louisville workers consistently develop innovative ideas that eliminate problems, and improve productivity and reliability.
When I work with organizations, I preach that we need to progress from our initial “Lean Projects” to a “Lean way of business” until we get to a point where Lean is “just the way we do business” rather than some foreign concept. It sounds like H&B is there.
For all of the continuous improvement talk, a few concerns jump out in the article. One is this picture to the left, what appears to be a large batch of bats waiting to be loaded into a sanding machine. Why such large batches? Why not have a sanding machine as part of a baseball bat cell? Does H&B still have a departmental layout?
Another concern is their talk about driving towards automating as much as they can. What will they do with employees who are replaced by the automation?
Big questions, I hope they are solving them in a way that won’t undercut the Lean mindset and Lean business success.
“Over the past six months, we have doubled our workforce,” says Stewart. “Half of our workforce averages 35 years on the job; the other half has six months.”
Sounds like a great opportunity for leveraging the experience, via the Training Within Industry program, to help bring along the new employees!
The Louisville facility’s old guard has begun to retire, and the retirements will only increase in the next few years.
Production is bracing for the departure of craftsmen who have operated bat lathes, painting equipment, foil-branding machines and fire branders for decades.
“Once these people leave, I will be in a world of hurt,” says Brian Hillerich. “That’s not too much of an exaggeration.”
The plant is open to the public for tours, nearly every day, so maybe one of our Kentucky readers can visit and give us a first-hand report??
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