Lean conversation

March 26, 2009
By: Dan Davis

I"m in Carefree, Ariz., today for the first day of conferences at the fourth annual Metal Matters leadership summit, sponsored by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association. That follows a meeting I had yesterday with the folks from LAI International, a precision manufacturer of complex parts with locations in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and two plants in Arizona. So far everyone wants to talk about lean.

LAI has just begun its journey even though it has been serving some of the most demanding customers on earthfolks in the aerospace and defense industries. We"re talking about customers that want to conduct their own audits of your facilities; a company"s word doesn"t mean much to these people, who want to see quality initiatives with their own eyes.

So LAI is introducing lean concepts, such as 5S, value stream mapping, poka yoke, and one-piece flow to its work force. The early results have got the LAI troops excited.

In Maine, following a brainstorming session that generated 390 ideas for areas to improve manufacturing efficiency, the employees went to work prioritizing projects. One of the first was attempting to reduce set-up time for waterjet machines. The shop floor personnel were challenged to think outside of the box, and new ideas emerged. One called for the implementation of a quick-release plug on a grounding wire attached to fixtures. Previously the wire had to be detached and reattached to a fixture each time a job change occurred. The quick-release plug eliminated the need for wrenches and nuts and bolts, and reduced the changeover time from 90 seconds to 3 seconds.

In Minnesota, shop floor personnel have undertaken several kaizen events. In one project, where they tackled air-flow testing for parts for a power generation application, they streamlined operator movement, designed a new seal that was less onerous to work with, and outsourced tape cutting to a non-profit company. The group successfully reduced cycle time by 58 percent and increased throughput by 10 percent, which the company president called a huge gain.

You"ll read about this story in an upcoming issue of The FABRICATOR.

At Metal Matters, Robert Haskins of Wilson Tool described the transition of his company from one that loves inventory to a firm just starting its lean journey. The company has held about 155 kaizen events in its Minnesota manufacturing facility and had employees generate almost 1,500 ideas for production improvements.

Hoskins stressed that he believes it"s the only way companies can keep up with its obligations to customers to be as efficient as possible and to employees to keep up with their compensation packages even in the worst of economic times. Wilson Tool is such a believer in lean manufacturing techniques that it often invites its customers to Minnesota to participate in a six-hour seminar.

As everyone involved with lean manufacturing can tell you, it"s a constant journey, and the continuous improvement effort requires a daily commitment to making it work. Everyone I"ve listened to the past couple of days firmly believes such activities are worth the effort.

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281