Lean and mean might not be enough
“I wanted all the machines working all the time,” Afeyan said as he watched a worker moving a stack of veneers into position for “cooking” in one of the pressing machines.
That was before a “lean manufacturing” exercise changed Afeyan’s mind about how his factory should be organized.
The article discusses that while great strides have been made the threat to success still exist from foreign (China) competition. And discusses that the company is trying to focus on production that is more difficult for foreign competition (short runs, small lead times). It is also one of the few articles to acknowledge that manufacturing production is up while manufacturing employment is down.
Related: Global Manufacturing Jobs Data – Global Manufacturing Data by Country – Lean Manufacturing Articles – Toyota Production System posts
But lean manufacturing is only part of an equation that has generated dramatic gains in manufacturing productivity over the last two years. Despite the large number of layoffs in manufacturing, the volume of factory output has actually risen since 2002. The job losses are a combination of efficiency gains at existing factories and turnover that sees more efficient producers replacing those who couldn’t survive.
The plant was reorganized to bring machines together to form production cells where cross-trained workers begin and finish orders one by one. Teams of employees now take plywood and cut it, sand it, groove it, insert hardware and package it for shipping – operations that used to be executed at separate stations. Similar changes were made in the plywood manufacturing area.
Now, orders move through the factory quickly instead of stacking up.