Less is More

Pipestone Flyer

A panel of experts on "getting Lean" in your business fielded questions from both the moderator and the audience at February's EDA Breakfast.

    The February EDA breakfast was a very topical one for many businesses, covering many aspects of the ways a company can "go lean". 

    With a panel of speakers which included Ron Subramanian the Director of Energy Connections for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Mark Burggren President of Alberta Manufacturing Solutions Inc., Marcel Claveau Vice President of Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement, Chantal Woitas General Manager for Freudenberg Oil, and Lori Schmidt CEO of Productivity Alberta, the expertise in the room was pretty impressive. The morning's program was moderated by Tom Mansfield Director of Metal Manufacturing Industrial Development for Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education.

    Tom began the discussion by stating that for industry to grow and succeed they need to understand lean concepts and thinking. A business owner once confided to him that the thing that keeps him awake at night is how much he has left on the table in years past.

Mark gave the example of Toyota using lean manufacturing principles to break the stranglehold of the big three auto manufacturers. He then spoke of a "real life example" of a local company that had doubled their output with no extra cost by implementing lean manufacturing initiatives.     

    Marcel said that the first thing people think of when you use the phrase "going lean" is that jobs are going to be lost. "Absolutely not true." he says. "You simply make things more efficient so waste is reduced and production is increased which equals happier customers and safe jobs." He continued on to point out that the biggest job in this process is sustainability. "It's easy to grab the low hanging fruit and then rest but this is a continuous process. Attitude comes from the top, and making workers feel good about themselves also makes them feel good about the company." 

    Ron spoke of how close most manufacturing companies often run to the profit line. He said that nothing he does now comes close to the stress level of when he worked in manufacturing. He shared a statistic that most manufacturing companies are just covering costs for the first 7 hours and 53 minutes of an 8 hour work day and the profits are made in the final 6-7 minutes. "When companies are reactive they are simply developing band aid solutions to problems that present themselves. Companies have to to become strategic and learn to look long term. The biggest question is how to become strategic. 

    Mark said that becoming strategic is simple but not easy. "You must compartmentalism your life. Make a plan and just do it. You say to yourself 'First I'm going to wrestle alligators, and then I'm going to drain the swamp.'"

    On the actual process of becoming lean, Marcel stated that "We don't make a lot of widgets in Alberta, so how do you lean that? You get back to basics. You go through your business and lean each component individually." 

    Chantal shared that when her company went lean in 2005 most of the employees were very suspicious of the process, but she said that most of those people were still on board today.

Mark stated that "Cynicism runs deep on the production room floor but the buy in will come when the employees see the job security and improved safety in the workplace the new workflow creates."

    Summing up the lean principles the panel had been discussing, Marcel said "The only way we can compete is to become more efficient. We have to reduce costs to remain competitive in the marketplace. This is how Alberta companies can stay relevant."

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