Volume 18 | Issue 1 | Year 2015

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His guiding philosophy can be summarized as follows: By adopting appropriate principles of management, organizations can increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs by minimizing waste, staff attrition, and litigation while increasing customer loyalty-the key is to practice continual improvement and think of manufacturing as a system, not as bits and pieces.

Deming’s methods and overall impacts made over the years have slowly but surely been adopted by manufacturers all over the world, largely taking root in Japan’s and the United States’ automotive industries before eventually expanding to and influencing just about every single industrial sector there is today.

It’s a system of thinking that, while developed over sixty years ago, is one that is significantly tied to the present and future of manufacturing success around the world, particularly here in the United States. Echoing this sentiment on an annual basis is Jim Manley, vice chairman of the Michigan Lean Consortium. A career industrialist who has spent time with General Motors, Delphi, and Faurecia over the years, Manley says that he understood the meaning and importance of Lean principles in the modern workplace early on, a realization aided and influenced by the fact that he received the rare opportunity to study in-person with Dr. W. Edwards Deming in the beginning of his career and learn the concept of Lean hands-on.

“My work with Dr. Deming really opened my eyes to workplace dynamics and the role of Lean principles within them,” he says, adding, “And with the Michigan Lean Consortium, we emulate his studies and take them to the next step in not only educating, but theorizing about and testing evolutions and customizations of the system in ways that are relative to our members’ and their companies’ needs.”

Engine of Collaboration
The Michigan Lean Consortium is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2008. “It was developed by a group of forward thinking individuals who sought to spread the benefits of Lean principles and tools throughout the state of Michigan as a way of improving and building upon what is an already impressive and diverse industrial landscape here,” Manley says. And its founding was proximally fitting as well, given the state’s historic ties to the automotive industry, the first sector to widely utilize Lean processes.

Although there are a number of other similar organizations in other states, the Michigan Lean Consortium serves as perhaps the most in-depth and extensive source of Lean education in the U.S., with one having to look no further than the organization’s membership count, industrial makeup, and number of events they hold throughout the year to see why. “Between our over 400 members, whose backgrounds vary across fifteen-plus industries, and the many events we conduct throughout the year that are open to both members and non-members alike, we really view ourselves as an ‘engine of collaboration’ in terms of bringing Lean education to not only those in the state of Michigan, but beyond it as well,” he says.

Perhaps most significant to their overall efforts is the annual conference they hold in Traverse City, Mich., as a way of consolidating many of the region’s top manufacturers and providing a platform for them to discuss and share Lean ideas. “Each year we attract participants from a wide range of industries—including health care, automotive, aerospace, energy, and government—who come together and share best practices, new developments, and dig deeper overall into the philosophy of Lean principles and their role in modern manufacturing.”

In 2014, the conference featured twelve presentations, including topics like “The Building Blocks of Standard Work Instruction” and “Fostering Innovation,” with a number of other speakers and participants discussing what Lean is, how it currently serves manufacturing, and where it looks to be heading in the future.

A Continuous Journey
The education of Lean processes and manufacturing will always be an ongoing one—after all, the definition of ‘Lean’ can largely be attributed to the phrase “continuous improvement”—but Manley says there are some methods that are everlasting and central to achieving a Lean identity as a company.

“It’s important as a company to establish a BHAG, or rather a Big Hairy Audacious Goal—one that is clear and compelling and the entire organization can focus on,” he says, adding, “but in order to accomplish such a goal, a manufacturer needs to effectively map their value stream and determine the best way to go about achieving it.”

A value stream serves as the entire chain of participants and responsibilities from beginning to the ultimate consumer. It involves all stakeholders including suppliers, customers, and internal roles. “Since the ultimate consumer price/expectation is a function of the cumulative costs of the entire value stream, streamlining it becomes critical,” says Manley, adding, “In fact, many industries’ competitive environments are often defined by one industry leader’s value stream versus another’s.”

Additionally, he discusses the importance of 5S, a five-step repeatable system that paves the way for neatness, organization, and efficiency. “It provides a manufacturer with a rapid, visible achievement while preparing the workforce for other advanced improvement efforts,” he says, noting, “It’s a great facilitator of teamwork.”

Initially developed within the Toyota companies in the 50s, the five steps are as follows: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. “It helps employees get a ‘gut-level’ feel for waste, operate as a team and reach consensus on issues, learn how to standardize non-standard work, and form the foundation for continuous improvement,” Manley says.

Organizations like the Michigan Lean Consortium are building momentum behind their educational efforts, because the fact of the matter is that the manufacturing world is past the point of Lean principles being presented as an ”advantage” for a company’s workplace, and instead has shifted into a “need” for them to stay competitive and successful in today’s fast-paced, demanding world.

There are many tools that fall under the umbrella of Lean, like 5S, Kaizen, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, and others, but Manley says the key to it all is displaying it not as a concept, but as a culture. “A company that benefits from Lean has done so because not only have they mapped out their infrastructure and developed an effective system, but their employees have bought into it as well,” he says, concluding, “The end product, upon doing so, is a company akin to a well-oiled machine and one with an entirely new set of external and internal business opportunities to engage and go after that they wouldn’t have been able to do before.”

For more information about the Michigan Lean Consortium and their role in educating individuals and businesses about Lean principles, visit http://michiganlean.org/.