Small Manufacturers Can Make Lean Work

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Lean has been and is the most confusing, often misunderstood topic among manufacturing in the past 50 years. Like the adoption of the Web, manufacturers have been told and shown that Lean can eliminate waste, and build value throughout supply chains by focusing on the customer.

But where Lean has often gone off the rails for many eager small and midsized manufacturers is in the adoption. Lean is usually approached as a project, with a distinct beginning and end. Worse, it's difficult for manufacturers that live and breathe absolutes to recognize Lean is a cultural shift that is forever. And Lean also exposes wastes and improvements that companies aren't aware of. It's next to impossible to recognize its benefits when approached from a traditional ROI perspective.

So, here are a few examples of Lean evolution that can help get small manufacturers in the right frame of mind, and set realistic expectations to begin the Lean journey.

Get thee to Superfactory: One of the best sources of Lean information for small manufacturers, SF distinguishes itself because of its personality and hands-on approach. These guys also are passionate about driving lean throughout an organization - from the loading dock through accounting - in ways that are both holistic and specific. And SF presents a plethora of materials like videos, presentations and books as aids to define and implement Lean (select links in the sidebar titled 'RESOURCE TOPICS' for access). And the blog Evolving Excellence is worth regular visits.

(Another great resource for small manufacturers beginning a Lean transformation should include Jamie Flinchbaugh - he's knowledgeable, experienced, and has worked across the manufacturing genome.)

While this video is a bit '1970s shop class video style,' it does touch on how a small manufacturer deals with the journey toward Lean and a few of the pitfalls: Peterson Pacific.

This video portrays a multi-dimensional, small manufacturer's Lean transformation from the shop floor perspective, including manufacturing and assembly: Sunnen.

The Web is rife with Lean examples and there are many lists of resources out there. But Lean is unlike any project you've likely undertaken, and for small manufacturers it's imperative that you do your homework before you start.

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