Go Lean: Lean Manufacturing

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por Keith Loria, Reporter | March 04, 2009

"It's about a process focus on producing business results, valuing the employee, using scientific methods to improve those processes, and relentlessly driving continuous improvement to the flow of value to the customer," says Gregory Johnson, senior director of process solutions for Medtronic Xomed, which manufacturers and distributes surgical products for use by Ear, Nose and Throat specialists. "Thus, lean is about employees, process and customers, not cars or any specific product."

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Duggan is often faced with doubters about the prospect of using lean manufacturing techniques from the medical world. Excuses he has heard include "We're too complex," "We need to meet specific requirements," "We work under a microscope, not on some big assembly line," and "We have shared resources at the factory."

"Most companies found it's very challenging to start lean. Once we give them a deeper education on how it works, it starts to make sense to them," Duggan says. "A 101 course doesn't do it for them, they need a 301, 401 course to understand what lean can do.

Once they learn the techniques, Duggan believes everyone can find success with lean manufacturing.

"When a general company goes into lean, most of them do a staircase of continuing improvement. They make improvements, sustain, then look elsewhere, make improvements, sustain, look elsewhere. It is continuous improvements. It takes 10 to 15 years making incremental change. I have found the biggest thing holding companies back from making significant improvement quickly is the question 'where will your lean journey take you?' If they can answer that question, they can go a lot farther a lot faster."

Sometimes a company just needs to sit down and examine everything and see if they are where they want to be. When Biodex Medical Systems did a self-evaluation in 2002, they decided to bring in a manufacturer consultant, who suggested lean manufacturing, to make things better.

Lean manufacturing
at Medtronic

"About five years ago we had reached a critical mass in size and we came to the conclusion that things were not going well in the manufacturing operation side of the business," says James Reiss, CEO of Biodex Medical Systems, which manufactures a variety of products for the diagnostic radiology market, as well as equipment used for physical rehabilitation. "Inventories were very high, delivery time was poor, the quality wasn't as good as we would have liked it to be. It became very clear that we needed some help and needed to take a better look at what we were doing."