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Some process companies really get it!

By Peter L. King
Nov. 4, 2011

I had the pleasure of spending the early part of this week with a company that has spent the last 10 years trying to become lean - and what they have been able to accomplish is really impressive! This is a company with several manufacturing sites, with operations that place them clearly in the middle of what we call the process industries.  While consultant-client privilege prevents me from giving much in the way of details, I can tell you this:

  • They have been using SMED very effectively over their ten year journey, not only to reduce changeover time, but also material losses on re-start, which for many process operations is much more of an issue than time. They record the numbers for every changeover, track progress, and have been able to sustain the gains quite well.
  • A Gemba Walk through their facility dramatized the effectiveness of their 5S program (“5S + Safety”).
  • They have created thorough, credible Value Stream Maps of most of their manufacturing operations, and use them effectively to generate and prioritize ideas for continuous improvement.
  • They are beginning to use Product Wheel methods to optimize product sequence and campaign lengths on all equipment which must process several product types.
  • They are now planning to implement pull concepts for raw material replenishment.
  • Everything they do is built on a strong platform of employee engagement and empowerment.
  • From the above, you can see that they have started with the foundational elements, and then built on their success to move into the higher level lean tools.

In a meeting with the CEO and the senior VP of operations, it became clear why they have been so successful. The leadership understands lean, understands where they want to go with it, and are leading the charge aggressively and behaving in a way that you want to see lean leaders behave. Recognizing that many process companies shy away from lean on the belief that it really applies only to discrete parts manufacture and assembly, it is very exciting to interact with a company that really gets it!

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