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Lean Is More Than a Buzzword

In most of the casting facilities we visit, we are shown various levels of “lean manufacturing” efforts. Sometimes the results are easy to see, other times the changes are too subtle for the casual observer to notice. During our tours, we’ll often hear different versions of what lean manufacturing actually is, usually explained with generic terms and too often with unclear goals. It can seem like lean manufacturing has become a brochure term with little real meaning on the shop floor.

That’s not to say implementing lean isn’t a worthwhile venture, or that many metalcasters aren’t seeing good results from a lean program. In the upcoming April issue of MODERN CASTING, we will try to de-mystify “lean” and give tips from lean gurus, industry experts and metalcasters on how to apply it—profitably—to your job shop.

Many shops are already taking advantage of the extra downtime from the current recession to start housekeeping and organizational projects associated with lean manufacturing. It’s a smart idea. The true test will be how the program is continued as jobs begin to filter back in and production ramps up. After all, the crux of lean is continuous improvement.

But continuous improvement has to start somewhere. If you haven’t already, use the extra time available right now wisely by starting up a lean initiative. You don’t have to call it lean, but it should involve charting the flow of your facility to identify bottlenecks, inventory pileups or other inefficiencies in the process. Put meaning behind your efforts and sell it to your employees with conviction. The result could be a well-run metalcasting facility read to meet the next influx of customer demands as the recession ebbs.

For starters, below are a few resources that may help you start leaning your facility. Some have been suggested by sources for the upcoming article in MODERN CASTING, others have been uncovered during the research process.

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Development--A business novel illustrating many of the principles behind lean manufacturing.

The Toyota Way--Explains the principles of Toyota's method of manufacturing, considered to be forefront of the modern lean manufacturing method.

Lean Manufacturing Systems and Cell Design--Manufacturing experts explain how cellular systems comprise the foundation of the entire lean implementation process.

"Best Cleaning & Finishing Operations--2001," MODERN CASTING, Jan. 2001, p. 32--Three metalcasters illustrate how they streamlined their cleaning and finishing departments.