Blog Archives

Guest Post: Do They “Get It”?

Today’s guest post is by James Lawther.  James gets upset by operations that don’t work and apoplectic about poor customer service.  Visit his web site “The Squawk Point” to find out more about service improvement.

As you get used to improving processes, the one thing that becomes obvious, over and over again is that the more complicated we make things the more difficult it is to get them right.  Half of the time the biggest process improvement we can make is to make things nice and clear and simple.  It doesn’t really matter if you are working in high volume manufacturing, healthcare or for a bank, the principle holds true:

  • Sort out roles and responsibilities
  • Make things visible and obvious
  • Ensure that customer requirements are written down clearly (in words of not more than 4 letters)…

Why does this work?  Well that is fairly easy to answer, because if things aren’t clear and simple they are difficult, and then, lo and behold, people get them wrong.

At this point your eyes are probably rolling to the back of your head; this is not exactly new news is it?

No it’s not, but here is the rub, as process improvement people we have:

  • Theory of Constraints
  • Total Preventative Maintenance
  • ISO 2000 (and some)
  • 6 sigma
  • Total Quality Management
  • Lean
  • … and the list goes on

Not content with all of that we then proliferate like crazy, within the topic of Lean I have read about:

  • Lean Manufacturing
  • Lean Thinking
  • Lean for Service
  • Lean Management
  • Lean Sigma (my personal favourite, an excuse to sell books if ever there was one)

Then we have the audacity to complain that those we work with don’t “get it”, whatever “it” is.

Can you blame them?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Could you explain things simply for those around you?

Is it time we took some of our own medicine?

Newt Calls for Lean Six Sigma

Newt Gingrich is promoting Lean Six Sigma for the federal government.  Newt is stepping up and saying what the whole lean community has been saying for years.  Cut the budget and reduce the deficit without raising taxes or cutting programs.  The article says:

Implementing Lean Six Sigma throughout the federal government could cut program costs as much as 25 percent a year, its devotees claim, ending the threat of Social Security benefit cuts for baby boomers and Medicare death panels for Grandma.

Knowing how much waste there is in our government processes, I truly believe this could be achieved.

The article defines lean and six sigma as the following:

It combines lean manufacturing processes that reduce waste with Six Sigma, a methodology used to cut defects and improve quality.

Lean is not just about waste.  It is about quality and reducing defects.  Defects is one of the 7 types of waste, so how can lean not be about reducing defects.

That aside, the important thing is trying to improve the processes to reduce the federal government spending.

Mike George is trying to get the presidential candidates to commit to using Lean Six Sigma.

Retired Texas business consultant Mike George, who claims to be the creator of Lean Six Sigma, is attempting to get all the presidential candidates (including President Barack Obama) to pledge to eliminate the U.S. budget deficit by 2017 using Lean Six Sigma practices.

They also would agree to attend a two-day Lean Six Sigma seminar and complete a waste reduction project prior to taking office.

Mike George understands they can’t just commit, they have to understand what LSS is about in order to truly get the candidates on board.  Getting the candidates to take a class and complete a project would be a huge step in the right direction.

So far Mike George has gotten Republicans Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty, who has since dropped out of the race, to take the pledge with Texas Governor Rick Perry expected to do it also.  You can visit Mike George’s website Strong America Now to learn more about the pledge.

The media is not picking this up and talking about it.  Here is what the author of the article found in mainstream media.

The national media is mostly ignoring the issue.

In searching the websites of USA Today, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, I found just one story addressing Lean Six Sigma in the presidential race.

One stinkin’ article.  One!?  Does the mainstream media not think there is any other way to eliminate the deficit but to either raise taxes or cut programs?  That is like manufacturing believe you can only have low cost or high quality, but not both.  Maybe this new article will be a start to more.

I am glad that someone is trying to get the presidential candidates attention.  With the U.S. economy the way it is, this may be the burning platform the government needs to change it’s ways. Maybe the U.S. government can lead the way for other countries as well.

Milbank Manufacturing – An American Manufacturing Success Story

Company Background / History

Milbank Manufacturing is a 3rd generation family owned and ran business.  It was founded in 1927 by Charles A. Milbank.  The 1920’s was a rough time to start a business but with the philosophy to provide their customers with high quality products at a fair price in a timely manner and Charles’ network of friends and determination, Milbank built a strong base of customers.  Today, Milbank is the industry leader in the manufacturing of electrical meter sockets.

Milbank provides wholesale electrical distributors with quality electrical products for the utility, contractor industrial and OEM markets.  Their products are divided into three platforms: Core Products (primarily meter mounting equipment and pedestals), Commercial and Industrial (electrical enclosures and commercial meter pedestals),  and Power Generation (standby generators and wind turbines).

Milbank has over 500 employees and four manufacturing facilities (Kansas City, MO; Concordia, MO; Kokomo, IN; and El Dorado, AR).  This post focuses on the lean efforts and success of the Kansas City, MO manufacturing facility and the Plant Manager that lead the transformation process during the last 6 years, Mr. Trace Tandy.

Trace Tandy’s Background in Lean

Mr. Tandy is currently the Vice President of Manufacturing for Milbank.  His first exposure to the concepts of Just-In-Time manufacturing ocurred in the late 1980’s while working for a Tier 1 automotive component supplier.  He joined Danaher in 1990 where he learned the Toyota Production System from the Shingijutsu Co.,Ltd. consulting company.  Later that decade he had the opportunity to receive further training and development in the Lean principles through the Toyota Supplier Support Center (TSSC).  Mr. Tandy has lead nine manufacturing sites through the Lean transformation process with the most recent site, Milbank’s Kansas City plant, winning the TBM Consulting Group’s 2010 Quest for the Perfect Engine Site Award.

How Millbank Started It’s Lean Journey

Elements of Lean manufacturing or similar philosophies had been attempted between 1998 and 2004 with little or no sustainment and with no evidence of a plan.  In 2004, Milbank re-engaged with a commitment to the Lean principles on an enterprise-wide level.  Milbank partnered with TBM in 2007 and began using Lean Sigma tools, including Shop Floor Kaizen Breakthrough (SKB) and Business Process Events (BPE) and later, the policy deployment x-matrix process. Employees at the shop floor level became more engaged in the improvement process and there was an unwavering commitment from top management to truly transform Milbank using the principles of Lean.

Results from Lean Efforts

Before the lean efforts, the manfacturing in Kansas City was spread across two buildings plus a third that was used for warehousing.  Now everything is done in one building.  Using the Lean Sigma methodology during the couse of 2007 – 2009 they were able to:

  • Completed 38 SKB / BPE kaizen events
  • Created a 3 year plan / vision for consolidation of the two Kansas City manufacturing sites
  • Implemented a policy deployment process based on the TBM x-matrix
  • Implemented a War Room / Managing for Daily Improvement (MDI) process
  • Implemented visual management systems such as Leader Standard Work, Maintenance Scheduling, etc…
  • Implemented U-shaped, one-piece-flow assembly and fabrication cells
  • Implemented visual scheduling / shop-floor-control systems eliminating the use of MRP in many areas
  • Reduced floor space utilized by over 47% (60,000 square feet of manufacturing space opened up for future expansion, no brick and motar required – eliminated the need for a 30,000 square foot remote storage facility – property was sold)
  • Reduced lead time by almost 53% (reduction of 30 days)
  • Improved stock availability from 90.6% to 95.6%
  • Improved sales order on-time performance by nearly 50%
  • Reduced FG inventory values by over 50% ($2.42 million in cash generated)
  • Reduced WIP inventory by 83% ($1.14 million in cash generated)
  • Improved FG Units / Employee by 12.3%
  • Implemented annual cost reductions averaging $1.22 million

Milbank will not tell you they are done.  In fact, they have plans laid out to improve even more over the next few years.  Their mindset is to keep improving and never be satisfied.

As you can see Milbank Manufacturing is a great example of how lean is helping manufacturing in America not only stay viable but become the industry leader.