Tag Archives: made in america

Always Made in America

[Blogger’s Note: A couple of important events coming up in the next couple weeks give me an opportunity to showcase a great American manufacturer in this post.

First the events:

1)    The 2014 Massachusetts Advance Manufacturing Summit, on April 29 at the Worcester, MA DCU Center will feature keynoter Harry Moser, a national champion for reshoring manufacturing. Through his organization, The Reshoring Initiative, Moser has highlighted the fallacies of “low cost” off shore production and created a new momentum to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. GBMP will have a booth at the conference, and we hope to see folks from our locale there.

2)    On May 5-6, as part of the Shingo Institute’s annual Shingo Conference, GBMP’s Shingo Certified Instructors will be teaching the Institute’s Discover Excellence course at Whirlpool’s Findlay Operations in Findlay, Ohio.

And that brings me to the great American manufacturer, one who will not “re-shore” because, despite all of the off-shoring frenzy of the last two decades, they kept jobs here in the U.S. – they never left! Whirlpool, where I’ll be teaching on May 5-6, has always been “Made in the USA.” I asked my friend, Kevin Spradlin, Assembly Leader at Whirlpool’s Findlay Operations, to provide a guest post to tell their story. I hope you’ll find it as inspiring as I have. In fact, we’ve invited Kevin and his team to present their lean journey at the Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference in October in Springfield, MA, a great opportunity for you and your team to network with other lean practitioners like Kevin!]




Always Made in America

It is interesting to hear about companies proclaiming how they are bringing jobs back to America. Often they refer to it as re-shoring, in-sourcing, etc. The compelling part about Whirlpool’s story is that we have always been committed to U.S.-based manufacturing. Two decades ago as companies left our shores to follow “cheap” labor, we kept most of our manufacturing in the U.S. One has to ask: How did you compete when all of your competitors left? The answer is simple yet the journey has been hard. We had to develop a mindset of continuous improvement.

In the beginning, the road started with a small group of individuals completing a rigorous training called Operational Excellence. This is Whirlpool’s version of 6-sigma. At that point projects were bountiful and gains were huge. Several years of training, developing black belts and master belts through hands- on, tacit learning under the tutelage of a coach yielded tremendous results in our products and our profits. However, our top leadership was looking for more!

At the turn of this century, a core group of individuals started to study “The Machine that Changed the World.” In our initial lean journey we thought of lean as a set of tools; much like anybody on the outside looking in thought of OPEX (as we call it). However, after 5 to 6 years of starts, stops and learning, we really started to realize this is all about people! Moreover, if you really have people at all levels understand what a culture of continuous improvement is all about, a culture can truly start to change.

My own journey started well before my Whirlpool days when I was working for Delphi Automotive Systems and had the chance to work with John Shook’s TWI group.   My first teacher was an individual named Jim Parcus. Jim had worked at the Georgetown Toyota facility as a team member, team leader, and area manager. Jim was introducing us to concepts and tools, but though I did not realize at the time, also behaviors I was learning by being immersed in the application of the tools. I brought that learning with me to Whirlpool, but did not truly understand Kaizen — and what behaviors it took to support Kaizen and problem solving — until I had the chance to work with the YOMO consulting group at the Marion Division from 2007-2010. During that time, I had the privilege to work with many teachers, but our main teacher was Mr. Ohba.

Mr. Ohba was the former leader of the TSSC. Mr. Ohba had a team that was tasked to come in and help us learn how to transform the Marion Division of Whirlpool. Our “target” and/or business need was to dramatically reduce the cost of our front-load dryer by $50! As part of that learning, we also transformed our behaviors and how we thought about what it truly takes to develop people in the continuous improvement way of thinking. We were also fortunate that our plant leader, Brian Gahr, had worked for several years with Mr. Ohba and learned modeling the behaviors as a leader in lean.

Mr. Ohba had a way of asking great questions to make you think, but I was always amazed by his humility. He always would say that “nobody is an expert.” I interpreted that as we are always learning. So, my biggest learning through all of my experience is that lean gives us a vehicle to do great things by unlocking the potential of our people. Lean, Kaizen, continuous improvement — whatever you call it — is the competitive advantage as long as it is used to nurture and grow your folks!

So fast forward to 2014 in humble Findlay, Ohio, and what you find is the world’s largest dishwasher plant.   We have 2,200 employees and are the largest employer in Hancock County. We are part of Whirlpool’s overall Ohio presence of five plants encompassing more than 10,000 employees. Clyde sports the world’s largest washing machine plant and Marion is home to the world’s largest clothes dryer plant. Ottawa houses the upright freezer facility, and last but not least, Greenville is home to the legendary Kitchen Aid stand mixer plant. We just announced a $40M expansion to Greenville that will add 400 jobs to the plant. I am not sure any other manufacturer even makes small appliances in the U.S., let alone stand mixers. Overall Whirlpool employs 22,000 employees in North America. That is more than all of our major competitors combined! This did not happen by accident. It was a commitment to continuous improvement at all levels that fueled it. The passion for American manufacturing endures to this day.

Whirlpool is deeply committed to communities by providing good paying jobs and supporting community service. We support Habitat for Humanity, Cook for the Cure, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and our local United Way agencies. As a matter of fact, Findlay Operations has built several Habitat homes in the community — we were the first plant to build a Habitat Home in seven days! All of the credit goes to our greatest resource: our people. Nearly half of our employees have worked at the Findlay operation for more than 20 years. We believe these jobs represent more than just a job. All of these folks live locally, shop locally, pay taxes, tithe at church, etc. Our plant is the “lifeblood” of the community. We believe everybody working here is part of something bigger than themselves. We represent something greater than just building dishwashers. We believe we are creating a legacy that will endure for generations to come!

In conclusion, Whirlpool’s Findlay Operations are on a journey to become a Continuous Improvement Organization. We want to be the “undisputed choice” when someone goes to buy a dishwasher, and they only consider buying our product. We believe in putting the customer first, the dedication of our people and stay committed to continuous improvement wherever the work is done. We will accomplish this by means of 9 principles:

  1. Respect for the capabilities of all people
  2. Common objectives
  3. Business results driven through an external customer focus
  4. All decisions are principal based not rule based
  5. Personal development
  6. Teamwork
  7. Continuously improving
  8. Decision making at the lowest level as we problem solve
  9. Productive use of differences

Thanks Bruce for the chance to tell our story …the story of a company invested in American Manufacturing!

Warm Regards,

Kevin Spradlin, Stainless Steel Assembly Leader
Whirlpool Findlay Operations in Findlay, Ohio U.S.A.

What is Advanced Manufacturing?

I am looking for some help to answer this question.   Seeking illumination, I recently attended a presentation offered through CCAT, a non-profit Connecticut corporation with a mission not unlike that of GBMP – “to apply innovative tools and practices to increase efficiencies, improve workforce development and boost competitiveness.”

The word optimization was used more times than I could count.  One slide in particular from the presentation, entitled “Rapid Manufacturing Scenario,” caught my eye.  The speaker described a series of two improvements (noted in the bar charts at the bottom of the slide) using “machining process optimization software tools.”   “Hmm,” I thought “interesting stuff: virtual verification of NC code, 3D part scanning and digitization, optimal tool paths, automatic program correction”.   But I couldn’t help noticing that as operational times were being slashed, the orange bar – Setup on Machine – stayed the same.   In fact, nowhere in the presentation, was there a mention of machine setup improvement.

I wondered, ‘Would this ‘improved ratio’ of setup to runtime cause a machine shop to run fewer parts or more parts?”   For a site grounded in Lean, I think the answer would be ‘always work on setup reduction in order to run exactly what is needed for the next process.”   In the absence of that grounding however, I worry that the ratio would create more over-production to “optimize’ part cost.

After the presentation, I jumped onto the CCAT website and did find a one-day course on set-up reduction (none scheduled however) and an article on Lean simulation software, not a favorite approach with me.  I think the real floor is where the action is, not the virtual floor.  Call me old-fashioned.

Investigating a little further, I discovered that the state of New Jersey understands Advanced Manufacturing (AM) to “make use of high-tech processes in their manufacturing plants including installing intelligent production systems such as advanced robotics.”   Same thing in Iowa and Georgia and, of course, my home state of Massachusetts.  In fact, this AM description appears in pretty much every reference to advanced manufacturing I could find.    Ultimately, I landed on the website of NACFAM, a non-profit who describes itself as  “the voice of advanced manufacturing in Washington, D.C.”   They appear to have offered the authoritative definition of AM, the one that everyone else is parroting:

“The Advanced Manufacturing entity makes extensive use of computer, high precision, and information technologies integrated with a high performance workforce in a production system capable of furnishing a heterogeneous mix of products in small or large volumes with both the efficiency of mass production and the flexibility of custom manufacturing in order to respond quickly to customer demands.”

In June 2011 our national government announced it would spend $500 million to support advanced manufacturing.  I hope they understand what it means.  I’m still confused.  I worry that Advanced Manufacturing sounds an awful (and I mean awful) lot like Lee Iacocca’s “agile manufacturing” strategy (vintage 1990) to leapfrog Toyota’s system.  History did not validate this approach; I hope it has not been repackaged for 2012.

I recall a complaint offered by Shigeo Shingo in 1989 that while at that time nobody was paying attention to SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies), there were a swarm of doctoral dissertations on algorithms for optimizing economical order quantity (advanced manufacturing?)  Have we grown beyond that thinking today, or are we still squirming in quicksand?

What do you think?  Let me hear from you.


BTW:  Mark your calendar.  The Northeast Shingo Prize Conference is coming up September 25-26, 2012.  Hope we’ll see you there.

Incremental Elimination of Weeds

Spring is my favorite season because of the spirit of renewal it brings with it.  So here is a post dedicated to spring that is inspired by a comment made recently by my colleague, Menrika Louis:

“I am one with the weeds,” Menrika commented jokingly while we were working together on an improvement project.   She was referring to the nitty-gritty realities that present themselves to us when we are that close to the ground.   The expression typically refers to getting too tangled up in details.   But while it can be argued that a broad perspective may not be achievable from the ‘weeds,’ I think there are too few kaizen leaders who spend enough time there.  Menrika’s comment reminded me of a few lessons I learned from my Dad when I was a tot – maybe 7.

My father had a knack for breaking big problems down into palatable chunks, something I suppose he brought home from his job as a factory manager.   One Saturday morning he showed me the Frank Hamilton method for pulling weeds.   He was not a big fan of herbicides, preferring to use a weed grubber to control weeds.  To demonstrate, he placed a three-foot square frame on the ground and proceeded to move systematically from left to right and top to bottom identifying and removing weeds inside the frame.  He named them for me as he removed them: dandelion (pictured right), crabgrass, plantain, clover, chickweed, wild onion, and a few others.  These were analogous to the seven wastes – they starved the lawn of nutrients and moisture.   “If you get close enough to the weeds,” my dad said as he pulled up a small sprig of crabgrass “you can see them before they take root and you won’t even need the grubber.”

“Funny,” I thought, “the lawn looks so much different at knee level.”   There were stones and mold and bare spots and insects — all sorts of different problems that were only visible when, as Menrika would say, I was one with the weeds.

“But why do you use the frame for weeding?” I asked.

“There are two reasons,” he explained.   “First the frame helps to focus the task so you’re less likely to miss weeds.  And second, it divides the job into manageable tasks.  If you look at the lawn as a whole, the job seems overwhelming.  But in smaller increments it’s not so bad.”

“So when do you think we’ll be done with this job?”  I asked.

My dad smiled and replied, “We’re never completely done with this job, Sport.   But if we work at it a little bit each day it won’t take much time and we’ll have a nice lawn.”

Happy Spring!


What does 3P Stand For?

3P, “Production Preparation Process,” is a method introduced to the US in the mid-80’s by Chihiro Nakao, a contemporary of Mr. Ohno, and founder of Shingijutsu consulting.  I recall the method was called “New Production Preparation” (NPP) early along, but apparently succumbed to a marketing intervention, hence 3P.   The basic idea of 3P is to achieve, in Mr. Nakao’s words, “breakthrough or transformational changes in production process” through rapid, integrated prototyping of both product and process.

I had a 3P experience recently that reminded me how much I learn from customers.  My inspiration occurred during a “mini-event” to develop a build-out addition to a surgery center.  The decision to use a 3P approach to develop a better floor layout was made pretty late in the process. We had one week to investigate the current condition and understand design requirements. Then, we began, a team of eight clinicians – docs, nurses, techs and housekeepers — to “trystorm”, a term connoting brainstorming activity combined with actual doing.   The first of Mr. Nakao’s  “16 Catch Phrases” advocates minimal pre-planning and “lightning fast” prototyping, a criteria we closely followed: the event lasted 1½ days.

Most of the 3P team had minimal previous exposure to Lean concepts.  But all were very passionate about patient care and “constructively dissatisfied” (a theme I take up in GBMP’s DVD Moments of Truth) with the status quo at the surgery center:  Bed shortages in the recovery area, ORs waiting for available beds in recovery, surgeons waiting for ORs and, of course, patients waiting for everything.

When I introduced the concept ofpatient-centeredhealthcare from a Lean perspective, a connection between passion and principle occurred – not a perfect understanding, more a fuzzy idea that focusing on the care from the patient’s point of view might yield a breakthrough.   By the end of the first day (actually half-day), there was consensus regarding the status quo and a first pass concept for improvement.  We agreed to “sleep on it.”  This, I have found is a very important, if not scheduled, part of the 3P process.

On day two we jumped into trystorming with a vengeance.  One participant advised that she’d awakened at 2:00 a.m. with a thought.  “What was it?”  I asked.  “That we might not come up with a better layout.” she replied.  Nervous laughter.  We trudged on with a concept that was based upon “adjacencies,” a word that connotes relative locations of departments to facilitate workflow.  I reminded the team to focus on patient flow, and placed a couple Lego people on the prototype layout to signify the patient and his family.  As we broke for lunch, there was a feeling within the team that the trystorm layout created so far would not be a breakthrough.  We were facing a 4:00 p.m. deadline for a solution, and CHI-E was kicking in.

Lunch was over quickly  — back to work.  A team member blurted out as we restarted, “If we can’t fix the recovery area problem, the rest of this expansion won’t matter.”   “Go with that idea,” I suggested.  A new layout idea developed quickly working back from an “ideal patient recovery area.”   The principle was right: patient-focused.  Ideas were popping now: trystorming and more trystorming.  Within an hour, the team was sensing a breakthrough, and anxiety turned to excitement.   By four o’clock, an operationally superior plan emerged that was, in the architect’s words, “totally different from what we would have drawn.”

A follow-up email from the project leader for this 3P effort sums it up:

“I know that my staff who were able to come really gained valuable perspectives and were definitely engaged in ‘thinking outside the box’. I must admit that I was unsure how we could begin to make change, but count me in as a true believer in the process. I have always believed that if you need change to happen, it needs to happen with the caregivers first- it needs to be their ideas or the change never happens. I think this is only the beginning for us and I hope to be able to use what I learned from now on every day.”

So what did I learn from this customer?  That, if the right people (in this case the direct patient providers) have the passion to improve, then the keystone to improvement is the right principle.  The technical side of lean is important, but the people side is essential:

3P = People + Passion + Principle

Do you have a 3P experience you can share?  Please send it along.


BTW:  Speaking of principle-based transformation, there’s still time to register for the fast-approaching International Shingo Conference in Jacksonville, April 30 – May 4.  I’ll be there, and hope to see you too.

JIT, Boy Scouts, and Stooges

I take my work very seriously, but sometimes when I have excess idle time (like on the red-eye from Phoenix to Boston), I’ll have a whimsical idea.  Here’s one I’d like to share, to demonstrate the universality of a good idea.  My stream of thought begins with recent participation in the Boy Scouts Merit Badge University.  As a counselor for music merit badge, I attended a course for their  “new” training method, referred as the EDGE method.   I noticed that it bore a striking resemblance to the methods used during World War II to backfill and rapidly train workers in US plants.  The same method subsequently was used to help the Japanese manufacturing economy rebound after the war.   And today it is experiencing resurgence on US shores, helping to standardize and improve operations in many industries.  Most recently, it appears to have made it into the latest edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook.  Hurrah for the Scouts, an organization from whom I think I learned more that I did from college. I suppose there is a TWI’er in Scouting today who had the foresight to pass this thinking along.  I can only hope that as scouts grow into business people, that EDGE will eventually become their means for training employees.

Boy Scouts of America Edge Method  (2011)
The Trainer’s EDGE uses contemporary training techniques and emphasizes the importance of experiential learning, or “learning by doing.”

The acronym stands for:
Explain how it is done – Tell them.
Demonstrate the steps – Show them
Guide learners as they practice – Watch them do it.
Enable them to succeed on their own – Use memory aids, practice it, they teach it.

Training Within Industry Job Instruction Training  (1940)
A step-by-step on the job training method in which a trainer:

(1) Prepares a trainee with an overview of the job, its purpose, and the results desired,
(2) Demonstrates the task or the skill to the trainee,
(3) Allows the trainee to mimic the demonstration on his or her own, and
(4) Follows up to provide feedback and help.

So far in my story, no particular whimsy.  However, by coincidence, a recent email from my brother, an inveterate Three Stooges fan, contained a link to a Stooges classic, that sums up the learn-and-do spirit and structure of Job Instruction Training in 1938, fully three years before the advent of TWI! Watch it for yourself:  “Swinging the Alphabet.”

Could it be that that the creators of TWI were Stooges fans?

Have light-hearted day.


Shingo’s Network

With the International Shingo Prize Conference just a month away, I thought a short post about Shigeo Shingo and the Prize named in his honor would be worthwhile.  At the time of Prize’s founding in 1988, Shingo was nearly an unknown in the U.S.   His first book translated into English (1969, Japanese Management Association) was hard to understand, reading like a 1960’s instruction manual for a Japan-manufactured product.  This was  my introduction to  Set-up reduction and source inspection (or “prevent-type mistake-proofing) techniques.   Shingo’s amazing technical discoveries are credited with making just-in-time possible. Today while Shingo’s original book, the Green Book, is out of print, replaced by a slicker, more readable version, the techniques he first described in English forty years ago, SMED and Poka-Yoke, have become part of our manufacturing lexicon.

But one of Shingo’s most important contributions from the green book is often overlooked or even refuted: The concept of production as a network of process and operation.  In this network, process is visualized as the flow of objects of change on one axis, and agents of change on another axis.  The agents are the operators and machines that add value.  The objects are the various parts that are converted from raw materials to finished goods. For those in healthcare, note that “parts” can be replaced conceptually by “patients’, and “operators” can be replaced by “providers” (e.g. docs, nurses, etc.)  In Shigeo Shingo’s world, production does not refer only to manufacturing, but to any process-operation network.  The concept of waste is the same, in his words, whether you are “making rice cakes or automobiles.”  And where do we find nearly all of this waste?  On the process axis — from the view of the part (or patient.)  When we speak of “process improvement” we are referring to the process axis of Dr. Shingo’s network.

Unfortunately, traditional thinking postulates otherwise, that process does not exist separate from operation, but is in fact, the sum of many operations.  Witness its definition in the latest edition of Meriam-Webster:

pro·cess     noun \ˈprä-ˌses, ˈprō-, -səs\: a series of actions or operations conducing to an end; especially : a continuous operation or treatment especially in manufacture

This conventional definition spills over into cost accounting implying that if all operations for a particular process are improved by say 50%, then there will be a 50% process  improvement.  Consider for example that standard costs are based on roll-ups of operational cost (value-added) plus a large fudge factor based upon average allocation of overhead costs (non-value-added) which, in a circular way, are stated as a multiplier of the value-added time.   This is nonsense.   Operational times are scrutinized and measured often to four decimal places, while process is essentially invisible in this conventional model.  Make versus buy decisions are made by evaluating only a small fraction of total cost.  System Efficiency is viewed as a sum over local efficiencies.  More nonsense.

The English language can be confounding.  Those who prefer Meriam-Webster’s definition of process to Dr. Shingo’s will never gain the benefits of Lean.  How important is Shingo’s Network?   What do you think?  Share a story.


BTW:  Looking for another kind of Shingo Network?   Come join me and GBMP at the International Shingo Conference in Jacksonville, Florida,  April 30-May 4.   Hope to see you there.

John’s Box

Some years back while working in an administrative department I encountered a curious condition.  With about a half-dozen employees, I was following the information flow from sales order to shipping.  Our spaghetti diagram kept looping back to an inbox on a table just outside John’s door.  It was imposing. It looked a bit like this:

“Who is John?” I asked.  He wasn’t asked to participate with us on this project.

“He’s the order supervisor,” I was told.

“What does he do with this information at this point?” I inquired.

“He makes a list of sales orders, checks for accuracy  and  then sends them to scheduling for release” was the answer.

“Where is he today?” I asked.

“He’s in a meeting,” came the reply.

A short time later, the spaghetti led back once again to John’s box.

“After the order is released to production, it goes to John for prioritizing,” I was told.

Order piles and files were mixed.  “How does John get through all of this?” I asked.

“He works late,” was the answer.

By the third trip back John’s box there were a few smirks on people’s faces.  An incongruous comment was offered by one of our team: “John’s a really good guy . . .”

I resolved to sit down with John when he was available.

John, who had been employed with this firm for over thirty years, greeted me cheerily when I finally got the opportunity to meet him.   As I sat across the table from him a scene from Office Space flashed through my head.  But unlike the character from Office Space, he was instantly likeable – really a people person.  During his career, I gleaned he had held nearly every factory and scheduling position, and had at one time scheduled the factory entirely from a three-ring binder.   He seemed to know about nearly every possible problem that might arise in the order process.  And he knew everybody – employees, suppliers and customers.  When I showed him our spaghetti diagram with many noodles pointing his way, he grimaced slightly, acknowledging, “I could be a bit of a bottleneck.”  After a moment, however, he added, “but there are so many problems with this system. If I didn’t check constantly, we’d be in hot water with our customers.”

I met with John’s manager later in the day to ask if John could join our team.  “He’s retiring in the next eighteen months.  He just sorts paper at this point,” said his manager.

“Exactly,” I responded, “and he has so much more capability.  Why not engage him to help solve some of the problems he’s currently sorting?    He’d be an asset to our team.”

“Okay, he’s all yours,” his manager said.  “Good luck teaching an old dog new tricks.”

How do you think John ultimately contributed to this team?  What do old dogs know?  And what is the 8th waste?

Do you have a story to share about underutilized talent in your business?   Please comment.


BTW  Don’t miss the International Shingo Conference, April 30-May 4 in Jacksonville.  I’ll be looking for you.