Group puts large-scale lean manufacturing to the test

Group puts large-scale lean manufacturing to the test

Lean operations have proven to help some of the world's largest companies, like Toyota, John Deere and Harley Davidson, improve their efficiency in individual facilities and manufacturing plants, but now the process could create more reliable, efficient and robust global supply chains.

Massachusetts sheet metal manufacturer ETM Manufacturing announced on December 11 that it had partnered with customer HTP, Inc. and supplier Ryerson to develop a test that would measure how well lean practices could be used in the extended supply chain. ETM has already successfully implemented lean into its operations, and since 2009 has seen tremendous improvement in operations and quality. Now, the company is hoping to find out the impact lean could have if all of its partners and suppliers worked together in one, unified lean operation.

The lean method inherently has a large focus on improving the extended supply chain, and improving efficiency in the stages between facilities has shown time again to drive down costs and nurture innovation. However, implementing these strategies across a wide range of partnerships, including suppliers and customers, has been a serious challenge for companies that attempt to make the change. Even if it is completed, it is often difficult to maintain such a structure.

"We've seen – as so many others have – the value that lean manufacturing principles can deliver within our own operation," said Rob Olney, president of ETM Manufacturing and a major advocate of lean. "Now, with this project, we're aiming to demonstrate that there's a lot more opportunity for improvement, and ultimately value for our customers, that can be gained if all stakeholders in the process work in a lean model."

The program ETM and its partners developed comprises a lofty set of goals, which includes cutting the time to market by 50 percent while slashing overall costs by 20 percent. Lean expert Jim Womack sat down with the groups to look at any potential opportunity the company has to enhance material and information exchanges throughout its supply chain, which is expected to lead to milestone achievements in efficiency. The system could even be in place before the first product launch in 2013.

"Our customers expect us to deliver high-quality products on time, and at the price agreed to every time; they aren't interested in our supply chain issues," said David Martin, president of HTP. "Participating in this project with our suppliers to find ways to resolve common problems by accelerating the product improvement process gives us a significant advantage in meeting our customers' expectations – a surefire way to success."

According to the Financial Post, when the global manufacturing industry fully recovers, lean manufacturing will likely become the new norm among companies all over the world.

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