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Manufacturing Isn’t Dead in Michigan, Either

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Mid-Michigan Manufacturing Letter –

Here's a letter from a manufacturing center leader at a small state university in my home state, Michigan. Robert Schooks writes about about the state of the industry and a visit to an electric motor manufacturer. He writes:

I was very impressed with their “lean manufacturing” cells and the efficiency of material flow.

The owner was complaining of the inability to hire people. His needs are not just for highly skilled people, but good trainable individuals as well. He comment was that they would look at anybody who walked in looking for a job. Wouldn't this type of need be a welcome sign in our region?

I'm surprised there would be that much of a shortage of employees in a state where unemployment is so high. A good solid Lean company that treats its employees with respect should be able to have their choice. The Toyota San Antonio plant had over 60,000 applicants for 2,000 jobs. If he *is* having trouble finding employees, he should be looking for labor efficiency, not just materials efficiency.

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Many hospitals face severe shortages of skilled employees too — nurses, laboratory technologists, and pharmacists. Lean methods are one way of working yourself out of that problem, but reducing waste and the need for as many people. It's much better to close out “open reqs” than it is to lay off people who already work for you.

The first company he had visited reported:

They reported work of multiple shifts with overtime to 50 or more hours per week, and still unable to satisfy the demand for deliveries.

The author asked:

Why can't our Michigan manufacturing base gear up to handle this type of capacity machining? Seems to me that if the business is there, couldn't we justify applying financial resources to gear up for this kind of work?

Again, this seems like something where Lean can help. Can they reduce waste and reduce setups in a way that frees up capacity? It's such a cliche', I hate to use it, but can they work smarter instead of working harder (longer hours)?

The second plant reported:

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They also were in the process of expansion and had just completed the build of an additional 50,000-square-foot building…

Again, this is an area where Lean can help. Many factories (or again, hospitals) are convinced of two things — they need more people and they need more space. Using Lean, it's not unheard of for a factory or a hospital department to reduce their required floorspace by 30%. This helps you avoid the need to spend millions on new construction and expansion.

It could be, even in Michigan (the home to many Lean ideas, tracing back to Henry Ford) that a lack of Lean is contributing to problems in the state's manufacturing sector? Manufacturing's not dead (as we heard about recently with Wisconsin), but it is struggling? Lean isn't a cure-all, but it can help, right? Michiganders, what say you?

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. 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 book is an anthology 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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