One of the “Top Ten Best Places to Work” Exemplifies True Lean Manufacturing: Things to Consider if You Struggle With Lean

posted on: Friday November 8, 2013

DSC_6751Material Handling and Logistics (MH&L) recently published an article about Franklin Electric titled, “Do These Boxes Make Me Look Leaner?” While the boxes referred to are a big part of the company’s latest successful lean efforts, the article pinpoints a number of tools and mottos that were integral to the company’s overall success. For those manufacturers still trying to improve their operations, Franklin Electric is worth taking a look at.

Lean manufacturing was at the core of Franklin Electric’s operational system, but it was not their primary focus. Franklin Electric followed the simple business strategy of continuous improvement – referred to by Franklin Electric as Kaizen. Toyota Motor Company, who has pioneered a number of strategies that other manufacturers have since implemented, originated the concept of Kaizen. Tom Andel, author of the MH&L article, quotes Gregg Sengstack, COO of Franklin Electric: “We believe that a global approach to continuous improvement strengthens our commitment to the key values of our company: quality, availability, service, innovation and value. Our dedicated continuous improvement team has coordinated Kaizen events on product engineering, supply, manufacturing and business process. This focus has directly reduced manufacturing and operating costs, and has yielded gains in quality and efficiency throughout the entire company.”

Andel explained in his article: “By definition, such continuous improvement is a journey consisting of a series of changes aimed at making an organization more effective.” This is a really simple way to look at. Results of the strategy include lower production costs, less time and resources necessary, and a shorter order-to-delivery time. All of these equal a great competitive advantage. Kaizen and lean manufacturing were the two key elements in Franklin Electric’s manufacturing strategy, and it’s all thanks to the success of both initiatives at the Linares, Mexico plant.

The Linares plant was opened in 2003 and employed 900 people. Over the last 6 years, the Great Place to Work Institute has nominated this plant as one of the “Top Ten Best Places to Work” in Mexico and Latin America.  The plant has also been awarded a number of other prestigious accolades over the last ten years.

Key Elements to Success

So what are some of the key elements to this continuous improvement strategy? For starters, continuous improvement is not intended to achieve immediate dramatic results. It is “slow and incremental, but constant.” However, any company who is just starting its continuous improvement journey would be wise to begin with the easier goals that do yield immediate results. What are some of the other tools that Franklin Electric used successfully? Here are a few.

Being that lean manufacturing is an underlying concept in Kaizen, we will start there. There is an “8 Wastes of Lean: TIM WOODS” philosophy that Franklin Electric followed for maximum efficiency. The letters stand for:

1.  Transport—moving people, products and information.

2.  Inventory—storing parts, pieces and documentation ahead of requirements.

3.  Motion—bending, turning, reaching, lifting and unnecessary walking.

4.  Waiting–for parts, instructions and equipment.

5.  Over-production—making more than is immediately required.

6.  Over-processing—tighter tolerances or higher-grade materials than necessary.

 7.  Defects—rework, scrap, warranty and test failures.

8.  Skills—under-utilizing capabilities and delegating tasks with inadequate training.”

Within lean manufacturing is the “Managing for Daily Improvement by SQDC board.” It’s described as “a visual way of tracking metrics. SQDC stands for safety, quality, delivery and cost.”

Those employees who apply lean methods every day are hailed as Franklin Electric’s reason for success. Every Friday, employees are given the opportunity to share their own ideas about what would improve workflow. This is aptly called “Lean Fridays.”

Franklin Electric’s packaging process will soon adopt the 4 R’s of sustainability and environmental management: “refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle.” This is connected to environmentally conscious manufacturing (ECM), which ties in with Franklin Electric’s box-making system that was highlighted in Andel’s article. ECM “focuses on the most efficient and productive use of raw materials and natural resources, and minimizes the adverse impacts on workers and the natural environment. Under ECM in its most advanced form, a product’s entire life cycle is considered, from design to end-use and disposal.” It’s easy to see how ECM and lean manufacturing – that which seeks to eliminate waste and non-value added activities – support each other.

What all this boils down to is that by having employees at every level work towards continuous improvement, a company becomes more productive, less wasteful, more innovative, greener, more competitive, and of course, more profitable. Lean manufacturing embraces all of these things, but it is not the core concept in the business plan. Companies who are making a business strategy out of lean manufacturing may want to consider the Kaizen approach where lean, while integral, is secondary to the bigger idea.

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.