Not Blowing "Hot Air" About Lean

Fanmaker hot on local production — chicagotribune.com

Ok, sorry for the headline. I think mine’s worse than the Trib’s. The article gives credit to Lean for an Illinois company’s ability to compete against cheap imports:

“Through sophisticated cost controls, Lakewood Engineering and Manufacturing Co. has made its local manufacturing operations so efficient that the company can compete with low-cost Asian manufacturers on price and speed to market on some items, said David Hirschfield, Lakewood’s president and chief executive.”

“Cost controls,” you say? It’s really about Lean. And it’s the company giving credit:

“It all comes down to a “lean” manufacturing initiative Hirschfield and other executives launched in the fall.”

That’s not even a year into their Lean journey. So, it’s early into the journey, let’s hope they can keep it going.

They *do* build some products in China, but they build the bulkier stuff locally in the U.S.

“What’s more, retailers like Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware appreciate the factory’s proximity because it speeds delivery of the box fans to their stores.”

Wal-Mart appreciates it? The king of outsourcing to China? Really? That’s news to me.

The company had been going through the “outsourcing lemmings” phase:

“…began buying products there [China] “because everyone else was,” Krauss said. “Now you have to go over there,” she said, because Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other major retailers primarily look for products in Asia.

So, which is it with Wal-Mart?

Anyway, back to the real story — Lean improvement. The company has involved its workforce:

“It started with training workers on the concept of lean and how to identify waste and eliminate it. For the box fan, the improvement process began with more than 15 workers identifying 48 action steps and looking for ways to shorten the process, said Paul DesJardins, vice president of manufacturing and operations.”

The article has many more examples of the improvements that were made, check out the link at the top of this post. The writer and the consultant mentioned do bring up the question of “aren’t employees worried about layoffs?” The consultant says that Lean companies should find ways to utilize workers who are freed up through efficiency improvements, but it doesn’t say directly what Lakewood has done. I hope they aren’t laying off employees, or the Lean efforts won’t make it too much further than the first “birthday.” I hope they’re able to do it right.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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