Collaboration Makes Lean More Successful

posted on: Wednesday November 13, 2013

Express Singled  2Gleason Cutting Tools Corp made news in Material Handling & Logistics for its lean operation. According to Tom Andels’ article, “Make: Lean is a Supply Chain Exercise for Gleason,” Gleason has made lean manufacturing a collaborative effort with its customers and vendors. The result is not just greater profit for Gleason. Collaborating also helps the other businesses save money, and when they adopt a lean approach, it helps keep Gleason on track with its own lean operations. Here are a few ideas that Andel’s article discussed.


In order for customers to be confident in taking advice about lean, Gleason had to prove that they could deliver on time. Spencer Greenwaldt, manufacturing supervisor for the Gleason Cutting Tools plant in Loves Park, Ill., speaks to this in Andel’s article. “Because of our lean efforts we can receive an order, get it designed, manufactured and shipped to a customer in Japan faster than they can get it from a domestic supplier.” With Gleason producing orders so quickly, their customers can breathe easy that they only need to order what they need when they need it. Greenwaldt also says, “We even work with customers to explain to them that if they order 50 pieces, and only consume five a month, they really don’t want to tie up their money in 50 pieces. Not only is that bad for them, it hurts our flow to supply other customers.” Coaching customers to follow a leaner model not only helps better customers’ practices, it also benefits the manufacturer.


Gleason purchases inventory on consignment, so their warehouse is stocked regularly with only what is needed. “In the shipping area we used to have hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of packaging materials. That, too, is supplied on consignment and refilled on a daily basis. We are billed once a month for what we actually use. That’s everything from corrugated boxes to strapping tape to bubble wrap to molded plastic trays,” says Greenwaldt in Andel’s article.

Consignment inventory is certainly something that a business would want to research before committing to. In some cases, it could add more costs to the supply chain, especially if not managed well or contracted in clear terms. Even without consignment inventory Gleason has another brilliant partnership to help reduce costs – that with UPS.

About 90% of Gleason’s shipping is done through UPS. The system these two companies have cuts down on paperwork, which saves both time and money. According to Greenwaldt, “We have been able to reduce the number of hours the people in our export department have to work, so they can maintain a 40-hour work week although shipments have doubled.” This is makes a huge difference, and all from utilizing scannable information for paperless invoicing. UPS also files Shipper’s Export Declarations for Gleason, “helping the company clear customs at each of the 45 different countries with which the manufacturer does business” (Andel).

Making Lean the Norm

When Gleason first began implementing lean, it was definitely something employees had to get used to. Greenwaldt offers some insight to the early process: “The biggest culture shock in going to lean is getting down to a smooth product flow…You’ll have one or two jobs and the first reaction is, ‘Oh no, I’ll lose my job because we’re out of work.’ Until they become familiar that you don’t have to worry, the next job will be there as soon as this one’s done, that’s the biggest change—getting people to understand the work is flowing smoothly now rather than piling up. That has helped reduce lead times because the idle time of a job in process has been reduced dramatically.”

Gleason is planning to continue expanding globally, which of course means each of its facilities have to be linked together electronically and trained on lean. The global strategy is not just about expansion, however. Andel explains, “it can minimize the effects of events like the U.S. government shutdown or any other regional economic swings.”

Gleason is another great example of a company successfully using the lean model. Not all lean operations look the same; creatively applying the concept across the supply chain is another way to benefit from lean and differentiate oneself from other businesses. For the full article on Gleason, visit

Load Movers Inc. is a company that builds quality power tugs that reduce injury and increase productivity in manual material handling. They are popular with companies who switch to lean, green, and just-in-time operations; they are reported to spare employees of injury and improve productivity significantly. Their applications vary immensely. For more information on Load Movers, search this site, email, or call 952-767-1720.