Another Lean Textile Example


Maintaining a fat-free factory floor

Here's a nice factory case study, once again in the textiles industry (just like this recent post). It's a company that is using Lean as a business strategy, to transform how they do business, to allow them to compete with Chinese imports.

From the article:

“As you lower lead times (the time between order and delivery) and do all those things, there's a couple of dynamics that happen,” said David Adair, the company's executive vice president. “You become more efficient. You create extra capacity and respond quicker. It's up to the company to find sales and generate new business based upon new capacities freed up.”

This sounds like a case of a company using Lean as a GROWTH strategy, not as a cost cutting approach. As management gets more business, that reduces the temptation to fall into the layoffs trap, which would kill enthusiasm for Lean.

It's a nice case study for a newspaper article, it touches on kaizen events (and sustaining kaizen), kanban, 5S, and smaller batch sizes. I love this example of how they didn't let their large truck be an excuse for maintaining large full-truck transfer batch sizes:

The company saved more money and time through other changes. In its pre-lean days, for example, the company would take three days to fill a 40-foot tractor trailer — leased from another business — from floor to ceiling with fabric to be transported to a Philadelphia company that would apply to them a special rubber backing. It would take several weeks in all by the time that company would be able to unload and sort the materials and the process was completed, because they had so much to do at once.

Now, in keeping with lean's emphasis on flow, Absecon Mills has bought a truck that it drives back and forth every day to Philadelphia as fabric is made, and developed a way to sort the fabric before it goes in the truck. That has reduced lead time for that part of the process to just a few days

It ends with a quote about the cultural challenges:

The hardest part, really, is changing the company's culture to reflect the lean process, Adair said. “Changing the culture of the company will take 10, 15, 20 years.”

It's not an easy quick fix, Lean. But, it's a long-term challenge worth taking on. Absecon Mills is proving that and, hopefully, will continue to do so!

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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