Companies can use lean manufacturing to improve operations

Companies can use lean manufacturing to improve operations

One small manufacturing company's decision to implement a lean manufacturing practice has led to record sales and additional hiring, making it stand out as one of the more successful operations in its region, the Salem Statesman Journal reports.

According to the news source, American Easel, a Salem, Oregon, small manufacturer that makes art easels, display easels and cradled panels, is thriving in an economy where one out of every three manufacturing jobs was cut in the region since December 2007.

The secret, American Easel owners Tammy Focier and Kyle Sacre say, was the development of a lean manufacturing program. In late winter 2011, these small business owners looked for ways to increase efficiency as the number of product orders rose. After consulting with experts, the company decided to introduce lean manufacturing practices to its operations.

The media outlet reports that the company implemented a process based on the Japanese term "kaizen," which literally means to take apart and strive for perfection. By adopting the process, the company's employees now work together to focus on a single problem, or discuss ideas to improve a process. The improvement is performed on a regular basis, with the ultimate goal of perfection.

The company hired a lean expert and his team of 15 workers to give a training seminar on lean manufacturing, which entailed giving employees hands-on problem solving exercises, using existing assets in the shop. During the training session, workers used a system known as 5S, or sorting, setting in order, sweeping, standardizing and sustaining the changes, to clean up the manufacturing space.

The "setting in order" phase included assessing the entire inventory system and creating ways to improve it. Through the training, employees unloaded huge amounts of unneeded material, which were either recycled or taken away by garbage disposal companies. The experts showed the company how to time and analyze every manufacturing process that went on in the facility, and how to identify any area where there was the potential for waste. Once identified, this waste could be eliminated, resulting in major savings, and a streamlined, efficient operation that revolutionized how the business was run.

But American Easel isn't the only company in the region that has benefited from implementing lean practices. Several companies have adopted these principles, including Modern Building Systems in Aumsville, Universal Forest Products in Woodburn and others. Even companies outside the manufacturing sector can benefit from lean practices, including medical centers and other service jobs.

In fact, many say lean manufacturing is just as applicable to offices and similar work environments as it is to manufacturing plants, as it can be used to process a wide range of business functions, whether its data, documents, knowledge, services or others. 

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