Lean 2008 Maintenance and Reliability in Review

Well, my first trade show is over.  It was a good experience!  I learned a lot (about being a vendor at a trade show instead of an attendee) and met some good people that are working hard to improve their organizations.


I made a quasi-three-dimensional tour of the vendor area.  You can view that here, if you’d like.  (It’s made with Photosynth…you’ll need Internet Explorer…sorry FireFox and Chrome users).

Also made some contacts at a couple of partnership opportunities.  Hung out in the booth next to Glenn Davis of VenTek.  He’s got some cool remote sensing technology that’s worth a look…and it appears they’re might be some synergy between the hardware they provide and Thrive.  Also spent some time talking with Mike Bresko of General Physics.  They help many of the country’s Fortune 500 companies to "achieve operational excellence" (a throwback for me to the original Compass tag-line…"Compass" being the original name for Thrive before some trademark concerns…trip down memory lane displayed below).  Check them out if you need consulting or training services.

Compass throwback logo!


Some Summaries

While I didn’t attend them all, I did go to some of the keynotes.  I’m just taking a quick scan of my notes, and will probably end up highlighting some pretty arbitrary stuff here, but here goes!

Klaus Blache, General Motors

Klaus kicked off the whole event on Monday.  He had some pretty diverse experiences with General Motors, including transforming the culture to lean at both existing GM facilities and at newly created ones.  Interesting connection that Klaus made through data during his experiences was an indirect connection between ergonomics and quality.  Ergonomics impacting peoples’ attendance, and poor attendance impacts quality.


Also, I loved Klaus’s presentation because somehow he managed to get his hands on some pretty old-school slides!  It’s like they’re out of some film produced in the 1970’s.  Good stuff!

slide1 slide2

Rick Fox, Alcoa Power Plant

Rick "chaired" a panel discussion with some other Alcoa employees.  They rattled off some impressive statistics about their successes through lean, including a $5 million ROI, 2 years without a recordable injury, and a maintenance backlog that went from 22 weeks down to 3-5 weeks.  And they shared an interesting statistic that the price of electricity changes every 6 minutes…woah!

David Hicks, Auburn University

I thought David had an excellent presentation and certainly disproved my generally held belief that people from academic institutions are often out of touch with the "real world" (wherever that is, anyway).  The Auburn University Technical Assistance Center surely gets my endorsement if you’re in need of assistance.  What really stood out in his presentation was their use of visual performance/information boards.


Todd Bennett, United Southern

Todd’s and United Southern’s (USI) is a great story that is still unfolding.  With significant competition in the plastic injection molding industry, USI has had to adopt a tremendous change in culture just to stay in business.  Through "zone control" on the shop floor, they have been able to drive significant improvement in quality, delivery, safety, and cost.  Some of the more impressive stats are that they took PPM down from 3417 to 255 in just two years and have an approximate annual savings of $80K in scrap costs, which for a company their size (I forget, but I believe it’s less than 100 people), makes a tremendous impact.

Okay, Worn Out

Alright, that’s about all the summarizing I can do for now.  In the meantime, I’m thinking about some future shows: one of which is in Florida in April (can’t find their web site right now) and the other is the GATF/PIA Continuous Improvement Conference in Lexington, KY in April.  Maybe see you there!

By |2008-10-22T10:07:47+00:00October 22nd, 2008|Manufacturing, People, Tradeshows/Events|0 Comments

Live from Chicago! It’s Lean 2008

All setup for Lean Tech’s first trade show.  At the Marriott in Schaumberg, IL for Lean Manufacturing 2008: Lean Tools for Maintenance & Reliability.  Here’s my booth!


Thanks to Tom Flynn of Lessing Flynn in Des Moines for the awesome booth design, Chuck Bloyer at Beeline and Blue in Des Moines for the booth printing and rental, and Jamie and Sarah Gyolai and Mike Kleis for their trade show insight!

For some reason the picture came out a little dark…may have to try another shot later without the blinding flood light on.

Everything gets going tomorrow morning.  First keynote is from Klaus Blache of General Motors.  See you in the morning!

By |2008-10-05T19:53:50+00:00October 5th, 2008|Business, Manufacturing, People, Tradeshows/Events|0 Comments

Congratulations Vermeer!

Thought I’d give a shout-out today to a local Pella business, Vermeer Manufacturing, which is celebrating its 60th Anniversary of being in business this year.  There is all kinds of Vermeer celebration-related activity going on around town right now, and I also stumbled upon this article about their 60 years in business.

Vermeer probably became famous from its round baling equipment (“Vermeer made the world go round”), but they also make construction equipment, other farm machinery, and trenching and trenchless equipment.  Vermeer is still family owned and is heading into its third generation of family members.  They’ve been on their lean journey since 1997 and could probably use our software…I need to get over there and peddle my wares!

By |2008-08-21T08:14:21+00:00August 21st, 2008|Business, Manufacturing|0 Comments

Tools for your lean belt and your tech belt

Rob Tracy at Intek Plastics (one of my customers) has written this excellent synopsis on Driving Lean through Your Supply Chain.  Aside from discussing how the breakdown of your supply chain can negatively impact you and your customers and including a supplier checklist for your use, he also talks about the incorrect assumption that going overseas for suppliers is the best way to improve your supply chain.

In the global economy, you often get a better deal by choosing suppliers in low-cost countries — assuming that upfront cost is your only consideration. Forward-thinking domestic suppliers combat this threat by using lean methodologies to define and maximize value from their customers’ point of view. This could include services such as part design, ready-to-use components, shorter lead times, zero defect products and stockless production.

This kind of thought (that cheaper overseas suppliers is the way to go) and the thought that US manufacturing is on the decline are myths that Kevin Meyer at Evolving Excellence has been working to dispel quite often lately.

Now, my tech tool for the day.  How did I come across the aforementioned Intek Plastics white paper?  I recently started using Google Alerts.  They are a great way to get current information about new stuff popping up around the net about your favorite topics.  I’ve been using it to get news and info about lean, technology, and even my customers.  Great stuff!

By |2008-07-28T14:56:34+00:00July 28th, 2008|Business, Manufacturing, People, Technology|0 Comments

Software doesn’t innovate, software doesn’t make decisions

…and software can’t manage people.  This is the tag-line for our Thrive product.  Why?  Because this is true.  Software by itself typically adds no value to the process it is analyzing (this is a very scary thing for a software vendor to say!).  It is the interaction with software…the entering of data, the analysis of data, the interaction with the data, the interaction of people together in response to the data.  That is where the value comes into play.  Software enables people to be more streamlines operations in collecting, analyzing, and managing information that surely could be accomplished manually, but when was the last time you used an abacus?  It enables them to see data in an aggregated visual manner that otherwise couldn’t be accomplished with a cursory glance at a set of data.

Robert X Cringely discusses SAP implementations on his blog (link courtesy of Kevin Meyer at Evolving Excellence from his blog entry).

Putting in an ERP system isn’t going to improve the business by itself: you still have to figure out what the data means and make decisions.

Of course, this is often the case: that people expect that just by putting the system in place they will see impact to the bottom line.  He goes on to say:

The problem is there is not enough return on investment from the ERP system itself to justify the cost. You need more. The real savings must come from improving your firm’s business processes. So a huge business redesign project is often coupled with many ERP projects.

And this is where I would argue you generally don’t get the information you need to improve your business processes.  The ERP is so financially focused (and the information is always end-of-the-month reactionary data), it does not effectively expose where the true operational waste is coming from.  A department that appears to be over budget could be that way because of waste caused by upstream or downstream operations.

Cringely’s article is interesting, because he argues that ERP’s are difficult to use by design, so that the ERP companies can pull in more revenue through consulting.

Manufacturing waste: opening up a can of worms

Seems like a lot of things in manufacturing end up with acronyms.  Occasionally you’ll step into a room and think that Robin Williams stepped out of Good Morning Vietnam to conduct the morning training session.

A lot of time the acronyms are just created to avoid something long to say, but the ones that are truly useful help you to remember a concept.  Here are a couple I’ve heard regarding the wastes in manufacturing.  This one I heard while at Pella Corporation when I was part of one of their teams a couple weeks ago:


  • Transportation
  • Overproduction
  • (Excess) Motion
  • Defective Products
  • Waiting
  • Inventories
  • Processing


worm_can This alternative spin on the letters was shared with me by Paul Vollmer from Specialty Manufacturing in St. Paul, MN.  I like this one because it also includes a nice visual that they can hand out to people to remember.

  • Waiting
  • Overproduction
  • Rework
  • Motion
  • Processing
  • Inventories
  • Transportation
  • Talent

This version also includes the eighth waste that some companies have adopted, and that is the under-utilization of talent.

By |2008-06-24T08:56:45+00:00June 24th, 2008|Manufacturing, People|0 Comments

Pick a number, just any number…

jumble Seth Godin has it right on this recent post.

"The power of a number is the effect we saw when they put a number on restaurants (Zagats) and wines (Parker) and gas mileage (the EPA).  People notice a number, and they work to improve it."

Lean practitioners have been quoting Taiichi Ohno for quite some time, who said, "Where there is no standard, there can be no kaizen."  In other words, find something to measure…give it a number…and now you have something to improve upon…a way to know that progress is being made.

By |2008-05-06T22:50:32+00:00May 6th, 2008|Business, Manufacturing, People|0 Comments

Jim Womack’s e-book thingy

Not sure what it’s referred to as, but at the end of a free webinar today, Jim Womack shared a recent publication of his.  It looks pretty cool, and while it can be printed, has some videos that wouldn’t work well on paper.  Not sure if it’s accessible to the general public or if you had to attend the webinar (I might have missed that part, I had to sneak out to catch the first Pella Tulip Time parade of the year).


By |2008-05-01T16:30:55+00:00May 1st, 2008|Business, Manufacturing, People|0 Comments

Trimming the fat in healthcare

The Iowa healthcare system is using lean principles to improve quality and cost of healthcare.

I was traveling this week and had a chance to get caught up on some podcast listening.  During the America’s Business program from last week, Mike Hambrick introduce Vince Newendorp of Vermeer Manufacturing in Pella, IA.  Way to go Vince!  Vince is the current Vice President of Human Resources and also the dad of a high school senior that I mentor.  Vince used to chair the Iowa Committee on Lean and Healthcare (Iowa Healthcare Collaborative).  As healthcare costs continue to rise, their goal is to find ways to improve healthcare costs.

By |2008-03-15T22:22:20+00:00March 15th, 2008|Innovation, Manufacturing, People, Podcast|0 Comments