Lean manufacturing helps companies establish unique business

Lean manufacturing helps companies establish unique business

When Bob Duncan graduated with a manufacturing engineering degree, he set out to create a furniture company that could – through lean practices – churn out quality custom leather furniture in less than 30 days.

According to Manufacturing.net, Duncan, who has become the CEO of American Leather Inc., credits the success of his business to trimming unnecessary items and adding automation technology where it was needed.

"Lean manufacturing was really the core differentiation of the business back when we started in 1990," he said. "Everything we do is made-to-order. We went into an industry where we were shipping three to five times faster than the industry normal, and offering a really nice level of customization. That’s what really differentiated the company to begin with."

Duncan added that when the business started 22 years ago, he certainly had reservations about introducing a new manufacturing style, which has been prevalent in Japan, into an American-run factory that was a part of an industry that was focused on traditional processes. At this point, the fastest furniture manufacturer could get a piece off the line in about twelve weeks.

"To go into an established company and say, 'We’re going to do everything the opposite of how you’ve done it the last 100 years,' is extremely challenging," he said.

The lean difference
Now, by implementing lean practices, American Leather can get furniture off the line in less than three weeks, and its products are sold in more than 600 retail stores around the country.

American Leather started out as an upholstery company, and when it switched to leather – which is much more difficult to work with from a logistics standpoint – adopted lean practices, which included making each individual piece of leather as easy to produce as possible. Duncan added that with lean, manufacturers can see huge benefits.

"I think there’s a lot of potential here in the States for custom-made products that are shipped in a timely fashion," he said.

According to The Creative Coast, lean manufacturing has caught on all over the country, prompting many organizations to hold training seminars on lean practices. 

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