Some companies not utilizing lean manufacturing principles properly, survey says

September 28, 2011

The term lean manufacturing, and the concepts attached to it, have become fairly prevalent in the U.S. manufacturing sector in recent years. However, a recent survey, conducted by the New York consulting agency AlixPartners LLP, determined that a significant amount of companies using these principles have not been doing so properly, to their own detriment.

According to Reuters, only 30 percent of the businesses surveyed achieved a cost-cutting goal of 5 percent or more in savings during 2010, while the majority of respondents lagged behind and saved anywhere from 1 percent to 4 percent. Approximately half of those who were surveyed were hoping to save 5 percent or more.

The news source reports that some companies who fell behind in savings despite adhering to lean ideals may be using the principles as loose guidelines, not standard practices. Steve Maurer, managing director of AlixPartners, summed up this belief.

"Most companies don't apply lean principles in a way that gives them the most potential bang for the buck," he told the news source.

Jeff Kopenitz, director of advanced manufacturing at DVIRC and a Lean Master instructed at the Shingijutsu Institute in Japan, is in agreement with this stance as well. "What I see happening in the workplace today is many organizations take lean as a set of tools, but don't take a systems approach to it. When that doesn't happen, any improvements are short-term and non-sustainable," he said.

During his instruction under Chihiro Nakao and Akira Takenaka, students in the founding discipline of lean manufacturing, the Toyota Production System, Kopenitz learned that lean had to be a long-term – and essentially never-ending – business approach to be successful.

Prioritizing the purpose of a company's products to the consumer, examining the processes behind that purpose and soliciting input on key decisions from employees rather than devising them at a management level was "drilled into our heads" at the Shingijutsu Institute, Kopenitz revealed.

He identifies the core of a holistic approach to lean manufacturing as a business culture where the workforce and management interact in a mutually beneficial manner – employees instructing managers how to conduct operations with the greatest efficacy. Other elements include having the proper operational tools and developing a viable, sustainable strategy to bring the greatest value to customers.