To Lean Or Not To Lean? Manufacturers, Speak Out!

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Lean and strategic sourcing in the manufacturing sector are of undoubtedly of great interest to MetalMiner readers (or at least should be), since streamlining supply chain elements is such a key component of the health and profitability of any metals business. For that reason, I thought I’d direct readers toward a few recent pieces in Industry Week that focus on the ongoing debate of what exactly “lean means and how to best implement it within a company’s existing routine.

In an October commentary in Industry Week, Rick Bohan, a principal at Ohio-based Chagrin River Consulting LLC, plays down the importance of cost cutting for small manufacturers, instead arguing that for them, creating “agility is paramount. To be able to turn around and make use of short lead times on orders while keeping inventory low and making customers happy, Bohan argues, matters most for eventually favorable bottom line results. He writes that “the ability to meet the sometimes capricious and unreasonable demands of customers each time, all the time wins out.

On Dec. 16, the publication posted a response to Bohan’s piece from Terry Durbin, continuous improvement manager for Winegard Company, a television-reception product manufacturer in Burlington, Iowa. As a 15-year veteran of lean strategies, Durbin begs to differ with Bohan’s assessment that the traditional “lean message” is one of “hoping for Ëœpromised’ cuts in payroll, improvements in efficiency and reduced costs elsewhere.”

“Lean’s message has always been one of responsiveness to customer needs, identification and elimination of non-value-added activities, and a passionate devotion to employee participation, he points out. (Indeed, a crucial starting place for lean implementation is a company’s culture, as referenced by a third Industry Week article.)

A MetalMiner paper that Lisa Reisman co-authored with Stuart Burns seems to support Durbin’s view, in that lean is more of a journey rather than a tool  “primarily for cost cutting. That would be more along the lines of strategic sourcing: “a one-time effort, a quick hit without any major internal process changes that was less than fully data driven. If lean was the Eastern medicine that focused on treating the corporate patient holistically over time”requiring active involvement on the patient’s behalf in improving his condition”strategic sourcing was the prescription drug that immediately got its adherents hooked on quick-fix savings,Reisman and Burns wrote.

Rather than stumbling upon the best by-products to lean manufacturing, it seemingly behooves both large and small manufacturers to do their best to engineer them. But is it that easy? Let us know what you think post a comment!

–Taras Berezowsky

Comments (2)

  1. Taras,

    A fascinating collection of perspectives on Lean management! Lisa Reisman is insightful in pointing out that Lean is a journey, not a single initiative. The most successful Lean companies have either begun with a focus on Lean from day one, or reworked entire organizational hierarchies and cultures over time to view Lean as central to their success.

    Rick decries what he perceives as a lack of agility under Lean management, but that is not at all the case when the Lean philosophy is skillfully and holistically applied to an entire organization. Each employee becomes responsible for immediately identifying sources of waste, while it is incumbent upon managers to be responsive to these reports and to continuously improve every system and process to enhance each product’s ‘flow.’ The kaizen (continuous improvement) element of Lean in fact calls for greater agility than is seen in traditional management!

    Peter Anthony, CEO, UGN, Inc.

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