Most Americans recognise that a healthy manufacturing sector is vital to the strength of the overall economy. Despite this, considerable pessimism about manufacturing and the economy persists. Loss of quality manufacturing jobs overseas, increasing imports, and the housing crisis have people anxious about the prospects for manufacturing. But these people tend to overlook important innovations and trends that are helping redefine the American manufacturing company while allowing it to thrive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. These trends are guided by a set of manufacturing strategies known as Lean Manufacturing.
American manufactures are shedding pounds? Not exactly, but manufacturing companies are shedding waste and increasing efficiency by focusing only on those steps in the manufacturing process that add value to the final product. Lean manufacturing is a streamlined process where everyone involved in the assembly of a product work together in the same space, reducing inventory, and delivering the product as close to the point of sale as possible. Based partially on the highly successful production model of Toyota Motors of Japan, Lean manufacturing also borrows from concepts introduced by American management consultants during Japan’s postwar reconstruction period.
Lean manufacturing processes have numerous benefits for everyone involved in the process. For the manufacturing company, improvements in productivity, efficiency and reduced waste, storage and transportation drives down costs while improving the quality and value of the product.
Retailers benefit from improved lead times; they receive what they want when they want it. This in turn allows retailers to respond more effectively to the needs of their customers.
The customer benefits from a more reliable and less expensive product delivered to their expectations.
Greater teamwork and involvement in the work process improves morale among employees of the manufacturing plant. Employees also benefit from clearer objectives and reduced clutter in the workplace. Newport Furniture Parts, one of the nation’s premiere wood furniture manufacturers, recently eliminated the use of pallets on their work floor, greatly reducing the risk of back injuries due to bending and lifting. Product flow has also been improved by cutting out non-value time previously spent looking for floor jacks to move loads from one station to another.
America is a society of innovators with an uncanny knack for reinvention. Lean manufacturing, when fully embraced, guides companies towards a culture of continuous improvement, efficiency and value. Companies that adopt lean manufacturing with an emphasis on locally produced products have an exceptional opportunity to spur a revival in American manufacturing.