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Lean concepts revolutionize American manufacturing
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Everyone benefits when manufacturers use lean production techniques, and consumers can get exactly what they want right when they want it.
About 90 Mississippi manufacturers learned ways to reduce wasted time and effort while increasing productivity during a recent three-day conference sponsored by Mississippi State University's Extension Service and Forest Products Department. The event was also sponsored by Tennessee Valley Authority and Appalachian Regional Commission.
"During visits to the state's manufacturing facilities, we saw the need to educate manufacturers on the benefits of the lean system," said conference organizer Duane Motsenbocker, an Extension instructor with MSU's Food and Fiber Center. "The techniques used by most manufacturers were outdated and counterproductive."
Motsenbocker, who frequently visits manufacturing plants to assist with lean conversions, said many manufacturing companies still operate using outdated processes, resulting in a loss of business to foreign operations. Many Mississippi companies lose business or close when they fail to adopt lean techniques that would improve their competitiveness with overseas manufacturers.
"Producers must abandon conventional manufacturing procedures that waste time, money and resources," he said. "Instead of producing in mass quantities, manufacturers should operate a one-piece flow system that creates custom, high-quality products in a much shorter amount of time."
A customer who might wait 12 weeks for a product using traditional batch manufacturing procedures could get an improved, individualized product in just days using lean techniques.
"Batch manufacturing results in consumers waiting months for an item to arrive, then receiving a product just like the one the person down the street has," Motsenbocker said. "With lean production, the consumer gets a customized product in only a few days."
Although converting to lean manufacturing requires some rather drastic changes in procedures, experts say these changes will bring buyers looking for immediate gratification back to American manufacturers and away from foreign products.
"We want manufacturers to get the order and immediately put it into production. It should take minutes to fill the order rather than weeks," Motsenbocker said. "We're headed in the direction of a consumer going to the car lot and putting together their ideal car. We are coming closer to what we want immediately and in perfect quality."
Developed by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota Motor Corp. in the 1950s, the lean production system requires cooperation by people in every phase of production -- from steering wheel and seat cover manufacturers to truck drivers and factory workers who deliver and unload those products.
"With lean manufacturing, you don't waste time and space storing raw materials and finished goods," Motsenbocker explained. "Instead, manufacturers redirect efforts toward quickly producing exactly what the consumer wants in perfect quality when he wants it."
Customized products delivered quickly give buyers what they want while actually improving the bottom line for manufacturers, although it could take years to see results on paper. While dramatic bottom-line results occur quickly, one lean manufacturing specialist said companies should not expect to achieve the full results of a lean conversion for six to 10 years.
"The magnitude of improvement will typically revolutionize a company's position in its industry, but the typical pattern for the first couple of years is not one of consistent progress," said Robb Kirkpatrick of Simpler Consulting Inc., a lean manufacturing consulting group responsible for the conversions of Jake Brake, Danaher and HON, among others.
The consultant said he has personally witnessed companies' productivity increase by up to 85 percent. The average improvement in productivity is 45 percent.
"Lean manufacturing is a continual process of improvement -- it never ends," he said, emphasizing that the drastic changes in procedures will not only feel unnatural but will likely meet with much resistance.
Because of its drastic changes in operating procedures and often slow progress, an experienced professional can make the start-up process easier for all involved. The consultant may be needed a few days each month for one or two years.
For more information, contact Motsenbocker at (662) 325-2160.