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How Going Lean Can Help Companies Navigate Bad Economies

"Company leadership must communicate a lean vision to all employees," says Darren Dolcemascolo.




Contrary to widely held beliefs, lean manufacturing isn't just for facilities doing high-volume orders, says Darren Dolcemascolo, senior partner and co-founder of EMS Consulting Group. An internationally recognized lecturer, author, and consultant on lean manufacturing principles, Dolcemascolo maintains that lean manufacturing is for any company that wants to be more efficient and profitable. And, of course, a lean economy–such as the one we're in now–accentuates the need for lean processes throughout a company because they allow organizations to create more value with the same or fewer resources.

We caught up with Dolcemascolo for this Q & A as he prepared for his two sessions at the upcoming Signage & Graphics Summit: 'Lean Manufacturing in a Lean Economy' and 'Using Lean Ideas to Get Jobs to Production Faster.'

Why should a company prioritize becoming leaner and more efficient today? Don’t many executives tend to back-burner new initiatives like this in uncertain economic times?

Darren Dolcemascolo: Some executives tend to put improvement initiatives like lean on the back-burner when times get tough because they are not viewed as critical, but others, who have a longer term view, seize the opportunity to make improvements when the economy is bad. Lean can help companies navigate a bad economy in three ways:

* Lean implementation results in a shorter lead-time and lower inventory; this frees up of cash (through inventory reduction) and faster response time to the customer.

* Lean thinking results in greater productivity-the ability to produce more value with the same or fewer resources, driving down production costs.


* Lean thinking improves quality. Better quality results in greater customer satisfaction and efficiency.

Each of these key benefits enables a company to grow during tough times while simultaneously freeing up cash and driving costs down.

What’s the most common reason businesses don’t get the results they expect from a lean program?

DD: The most common reason lean initiatives fail is company leadership teams not understanding what lean is. Many times, management views lean as a project that someone in the organization can be tasked with implementing. In reality, lean is a culture change that requires active leadership and all-employee involvement. If the leadership team of an organization is committed to lean and actively involved in the initiative, success is inevitable. Company leadership must communicate a lean vision to all employees, teach them the lean principles, and get them involved.

You’ve worked with a few companies in the sign industry. Did you notice anything about their operations that lend themselves to lean manufacturing principles?

DD: Yes, two things in particular: Sign companies have a complex pre-production process that affects delivery time to the customer, and they have a job-shop production environment. Lean isn’t just about eliminating waste. It also brings value to the customer by giving them the products they want when they want them, and not on a schedule dictated by manufacturing.


This has two ramifications for sign companies:

One, they must focus on reducing the time from when the customer places the order, to the point when production of the job begins. Many times, the pre-production processes take so much of the promised lead time that little time is left to actually produce the product.

Two, in the production area, sign companies must focus on creating flexible manufacturing capabilities that will allow them to move resources where they need to be to produce what customers want on demand and with the least amount of waste.

The Signage and Graphics Summit, produced by The Big Picture parent company ST Media Group, brings together top-tier executives from high-volume digital-printing, sign, and screen-printing companies to discuss common challenges, learn best practices, and explore new avenues for growth. The conference is a combination of educational seminars, roundtable discussions, networking and social events.






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