Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Do Your Lean Initiatives Short Sheet Materials Management?

A heads up to those of you that might be in the planning stages of a Lean Manufacturing initiative. If you intend to use outside professional resources make sure the scope of the engagement includes materials management and that the consultants have the chops to do it.

Here’s why: I find the Industrial Engineering end of the engagement (i.e., cellular manufacturing, standard work, production leveling, reduction of batch sizes, SMED, and visual controls) consumes 80 percent of the focus, energy, and project time leaving materials management holding the short straw. It is human nature for consultants to want to burn calories on what I would equate to the show holes of a golf course. The show holes are those holes that run along whatever access roads lead you to or by the Country Club. Country Club owners know if the show holes don’t grab the public’s attention it is unlikely it will call for a tee time. And so it goes with consultants (for the record, I was gainfully employed as a consultant for many years) building show holes makes a good, big first impression. Unfortunately, when it comes to complex company-wide engagements many times strong starts are not followed by strong finishes.

Here is a good case in point; recently a team of lean consultants redesigned a modest work cell to create the obligatory U-Shape, conducted time and motion studies, balanced the line, established work standards, created work instructions and added visual controls. All very good stuff! Toward the end of the engagement they assembled shelving and established a 4 Bin Toyota Kanban system at Point of Production for a handful of A items used in the new cell. When the team was confronted with the reality that there were hundreds of B, C, and Expense items unaddressed they dutifully took notes and thanked the team for sharing this with them. What the team didn’t know was later that day the consultants brought the project to closure and moved on. When these good folks departed the scene, there were boxes of material and racks of parts literally jammed at the back of the cell. In the consultant’s mind, the show holes were complete, the breadcrumb path paved, and now it was time for others to pick up the torch and finish the job.

If you find yourself in this position, do the smart think and call us. We are experts at bringing thousands of production parts and supplies to the point of production. We not only design and implement solutions, but we also stay behind and do the day to day management with our people, processes and enabling technology.

The iPower Distribution Group of New England is a leader in VMI programs. iPower delivers the widest breadth and deepest supply of Tier 1 commodities in the Northeast. Our supply chain provides $800m annually of industrial components, supplies, and packaging materials. To learn more visit us at