How Lean Manufacturing Directly Benefits Customers

As the influence of global competition has increased, manufacturers have had to reduce pricing, reduce inventory, improve service and shorten lead times to meet ever increasing customer expectations.

Lean Manufacturing is a tool many are utilizing to keep current customers and win new customers. To be successful in this endeavor, management must understand the ideas and principles of Lean Manufacturing, and use the system and the tools to continuously improve their organization to exceed customer expectations.

Best Metal Products is implementing Lean principles to provide our customers with hydraulic cylinders that are the highest quality in the industry, to improve quote responsiveness, to excel at customer service, and to eliminate waste and variation throughout the organization.

For Best Metal Products, our starting premise is that we want to build "to demand," with less inventory, and to provide customers with hydraulic cylinders that are virtually "zero defect,” at ‘world class’ cost, and at the right time.

This means we strive to be relentless in the elimination of all variability and waste. The foundation of Lean, the Toyota Production System, identifies the following forms of waste: defects, over production, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion and excess processing. Our Lean Enterprise system uses Strategy Deployment, Value Stream Mapping, and Kaizen events to drive the elimination of variation and waste and ensure we continue to improve on our goal to exceed our stakeholders’ expectations. Further lean practices and principles we use are Lean Planning, Safety, Continuous Flow, Product and Process Quality, 5S, Visual Management, Standard Work, Process Design, Total Productive Maintenance, Material Flow, and Supply Management.

What we want is not just "Lean Manufacturing," but a Lean Enterprise. “Lean Manufacturing” encompasses everything on the shop floor; Lean Enterprise takes the concept company-wide and envelops every activity and process: from the moment we get a customer call to the moment we receive payment, and then to after sale support.

Our strategy was developed with input from our customers, ownership group, suppliers, and employees. Tenets of the strategy are Sales growth, Profitability, and Operational Excellence, the most critical of which is Operational Excellence. Operational Excellence is focused on four main criteria: Safety, Quality, Delivery and Cost.

The first, Safety, is the most straightforward: We believe by taking care of our employees, we are taking care of our customers. Safety is our paramount concern, and the focus of many continuous improvement efforts. This has paid off handsomely: Best Metal Products’ injury rate has decreased 50% in the last year, from a level that was already at an industry low.

The second area, Quality, involves the adoption of new quality processes and systems, new equipment, 100% hydraulic testing of cylinders and metrics to ensure our products fulfill our commitment of exceeding customer expectations.

Third, 100% on-time Delivery is what customers want and expect. Striving to achieve this metric means increased focus on throughput, quote turnaround time, material lead time, and the elimination of waste so we can get product to our customer faster.

When we started our Lean journey at Best Metal Products, we had 10 to 13 week lead times. This was not even close to what any of our customers wanted. We started our lean process by developing a Value Stream Map (VSM) of our cylinder manufacturing process. The map we developed depicted a current state full of waste and variation in material flow, in material conversion and in information flow. As we started using lean tools we reduced throughput and inventory immediately. VSM is a great tool to identify the wastes. In manufacturing, a part that is waiting for shipment represents wasted time – only time spent providing a feature a customer wants to pay for counts as “value,” and maximizing that value is a major part of what good VSM tools can help achieve. Maximize value, and the fourth focus area, Cost, takes care of itself. Our customers are benefiting from our Lean journey with more competitive, higher quality products and services delivered when needed.

Lean thinking is one of the most talked about, written about, and “seminar-ed” about concepts in business. It’s no surprise that a Google search yields over a million matches on the subject. Implementing Lean is not easy and in practice, is difficult to do well. It takes thoughtful planning, a strong commitment from the top of the organization, buy-in at all levels of the organization, and good tools. Most of all, it takes time.

The Lean journey at Best Metal Products is still in its early stages. The culture change and rapid improvement required for its successful implementation have been the most ambitious and all-encompassing initiatives Best Metal Products has embarked on in its 60 years. We believe that Best Metal Products' many longstanding customers are seeing the difference in every cylinder we produce for them. We know new customers will immediately benefit from the advantages, both in the time and dollars that a Lean Enterprise initiative can contribute, and in the receiving of virtually zero defect hydraulic cylinders.