1660240534710 Bobargyle2

Lean isn't complicated

July 21, 2020
Over the next few months I'll be sharing applicable lessons I've learned on my Lean journey and how they can help you find success in your modern manufacturing plant(s).

I still remember my introduction into Lean Manufacturing back in the mid 1990s when consultants were working with us at Autoliv, teaching us Lean concepts and philosophies. We needed to become more lean because our demand was growing faster than we could keep up with, and we were under pressure to lower our prices from the OEMs we supplied because our competitors were using labor in lower-cost regions of the world. We felt an obligation to keep our operations in Utah, where we had several plants at the time.

At first, learning Lean was very confusing and almost felt elusive, like learning a new language for the first time. In fact there were a ton of Japanese words we had to learn that had multiple meanings (Are we learning better manufacturing practices or learning a language??). At this point we were struggling to find the value in Lean for our company.

Then my perspective started to change. I was very fortunate that Toyota offered to send someone from their OMCD group to live in northern Utah and work with us to learn the Toyota Production System. Mr. Takashi Harada, a Japanese production specialist from Toyota, moved to Utah in 1998 and worked with our managers to teach us.

At the time we had problems with downtime resulting in missed or late shipments, quality problems, and massive overtime to name a few. Mr. Harada started off by asking us on a scale from 1-10 where we thought we were in terms of lean manufacturing. We thought we were doing fairly well and blamed many of the issues we still had on our rapid growth.

However, we were humbled and a bit deflated when Mr. Harada told us we were less than zero on the scale. "But we've worked hard, studied all the Japanese lean terms, we've even taped off the location of everything (and I do mean everything) in the plant," we thought. We even started to implement a pull system and had reduced our inventory levels.

Well, the answer was simple. We didn't understand why we were doing these things, or what the real end goal was.

We did it because the consultants told us to do it. They said we needed to be lean, which meant we had too many people, too much inventory, and long lead times. This was true, but simply removing people and inventory had actually put us in a worse place. In the end, lead times increased and costs hadn't improved. But at least we had every item in the plant marked off with tape (garbage cans, computers, tools, you name it and it had tape around it)!

Working with Mr. Harada, it didn't take long for us to realize that Lean actually isn't complicated. It's a common sense approach that anybody can understand and successfully utilize. Over the next few months I'll be sharing applicable lessons I've learned on my Lean journey and how they can help you find success in your modern manufacturing plant(s).

About the Author: Bob Argyle
Bob Argyle is chief customer officer at Leading2Lean. He is a 30-year veteran of the manufacturing industry, and an expert in lean manufacturing, operations, maintenance, quality and engineering. Bob has developed a philosophy and core belief that winners in the new era of manufacturing will be the companies that combine the power of new technologies with the insight and creativity of the human mind. You can email Bob at [email protected].

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