Learning About Lean

The essence of lean manufacturing is doing more with less. For shops and plants, going to lean manufacturing is more of a lifestyle shift than a quickie fad diet.

Columns From: 9/1/2003 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

The essence of lean manufacturing is doing more with less. For shops and plants, going to lean manufacturing is more of a lifestyle shift than a quickie fad diet. It doesn’t happen overnight.

How do companies learn about continuous improvement, value stream mapping, visual replenishment systems and the other lean manufacturing techniques that might apply to their situations?

One approach is to have key people go to school. A number of training centers are now in operation to provide instruction. The Lean Learning Center in Novi, Michigan, is a good example. The center’s facility is designed to make the lessons about lean manufacturing really stick so they can be applied effectively back at the plant. The center’s simulated factory lets attendees experience “firsthand” what the lean transition feels like so they can internalize the concepts and values.

Jamie Flinchbaugh, a founding partner of the center, says that the courses offered provide an immersion experience. “Getting managers and decision makers out of their usual shop environment and deep into the lean mindset helps them shift their thinking,” he says. “It’s about embracing the rules of lean, not just learning the tools of lean.” Interacting with their peers from other manufacturing companies is another benefit of off-site training programs, says Mr. Flinchbaugh.

The Center currently offers four major courses, The Lean Experience, Lean Leadership, Kaizen Boot Camp and Lean Value Stream. The courses run 2 to 5 days. Go to www.leanlearningcenter.com for details.

Besides off-site learning, companies often bring in outside advisors to guide a shop’s transition to lean. The national network of Manufacturing Extension Partnerships, coordinated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is one source of these advisors. (For a directory, go to www.mep.nist.gov.)

Cincinnati-based TechSolve is a typical member of this network. According to Susan Moehring, manager of program development at TechSolve, onsite consultation can include group training, assessments, value stream maps and events such as a “Kaizen Blitz,” in which teams focus intensely on a specific improvement area. “Our goal is to help companies become self-sufficient in applying lean manufacturing by providing coaching, expertise and training to create in-house ‘lean leaders’ who carry the journey forward over time,” she says.

Bringing in outside facilitators has the benefit of getting more people in the shop involved with lean implementation at one time. “It helps jump-start the process in the plant,” Ms. Moehring says. Details about these services are available at www.techsolve.org.

Finally, companies should not overlook what suppliers can offer in the way of lean training. For example, De-Sta-Co, a manufacturer of workholding systems and flexible automation, has developed a Cost Reduction Institute to help shops put setup reduction into practice and to integrate the resulting savings with other lean manufacturing initiatives. It ranges from a Web-based library of technical information to partnerships with experts who can help with on-site implementation. De-Sta-Co is also sponsoring related online training in setup reduction techniques. For more about these services, go to De-Sta-Co MMS Online Showroom.

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