By Stan Whitaker and Dan Davis
Every manufacturer has had to adapt to the al- ways competitive environment. If they were trying to take the business-as-usual route, they
were usually on the road to going out of business.
It was only a handful of years ago that Camfil APC,
Jonesboro, Ark., needed six to eight weeks to deliver one of its dust collecting units. Now, thanks to a
modular design that allows for production of more
repetitious parts while simultaneously allowing
for seemingly endless model differentiations, lead
times for the equipment have been cut down to two
weeks. But the work didn’t end there.
The company began its lean journey about two
years ago in an effort to create a culture where
everyone was involved in eliminating waste and
implementing more efficient processes. The road
to establishing a robust lean manufacturing environment has had a couple of speed bumps, but the
efforts have produced a much smoother road for
near- and long-term improvements. This article recaps how the company has gotten to that point.
There are numerous ways for a company to get
started with lean manufacturing. Fortunately, Camfil APC is an employee-oriented company, and it
wanted to get everyone involved.
The first decision was hiring someone to be a lean
manufacturing champion. This dedicated expert
created the plan and guided the early steps that
exposed everyone to lean principles. It was a mass
The company had done some continuous improvement training in the past. Consultants were
used for spot training for specific targets or to cover
certain tools, but there was no follow-up after the
training. A consultant was brought in to train on
quick-changeover processes, for example, but that
training was not sustained. Some of those who were
trained later left the company.
Before the approximately 170 employees were in-
vited to classes, however, some thought was given
to who would make up each class. Not all classes
were handpicked, but each one included a mix of
personality types and job functions. In fact, the
goal in some cases was for classes to reflect value
streams in the factory. The rooms were filled with
people who relied on each other—directly and indi-
rectly—to complete their tasks in a given day.
The initial educational outreach wound up including 13 one-day training sessions. During each eight-hour class, employees learned that lean manufacturing principles originated in the U.S., were applied
to the Japanese economy as it rebuilt after World
War II, and are now increasingly being readopted by
U.S. companies. They also learned about the eight
types of waste and engaged in simulations to help
them visualize what that waste may look like in an
This was the first step. It gave everyone a common language to use as the company moved forward in pushing more formal continuous improvement activities.
Next Step: Kaizen and 6S
With more knowledge and awareness of lean manufacturing, the manufacturing team was ready to tackle some continuous improvement projects—or kaizen
events. Kaizen, the Japanese word for improvement
(kai means “change,” and zen means “good”), applies
to any set of activities in which employees at all levels of a company come together to change a process
in an effort to improve productivity.
The focus of these events—in which handpicked
strategic teams come together and are focused
solely on one improvement project for three to five
days—was on what people in the metal fabricating
industry would consider low-hanging fruit. These
shop floor shortcomings, such as work-in-process
lying all over, lack of visual instructions and guidance, and general lack of organization, need to
From kaizen to kata
One fabricating operation launches a lean manufacturing
initiative and finds early success
Before kaizen teams tackled the fabrication area, material
and laser-cut blanks were moved by lift truck (left). Now
a system of carts are used (right), which has reduced the
number of lift trucks for the work site to four. Also, operators don’t need a material handler to move a pallet from
the laser cutting machine to the press brakes, for example.
They just grab the cart and move it to where it is needed.
This master scheduling board in the assembly area provides the same visual clues as the welding robot scheduling
board. Assemblers used to have a difficult time deciding what to work on because parts could be found all around
with no visual reminder for production order (left). Today the scheduling board (right) lets everyone know where
every job is located and its status in terms of completion.