Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Attention Tool & Die Shops: Take the Lean Journey

What's a Lean Journey? Let's take a walk through an imaginary die shop of the future--one that is well along its Lean Journey. We'll call it the Ideal Tool Company. What does it look like? Let's see ....

Well, first off, it is a high quality.producer of tools, dies and fixtures. It has best in class deliveries and high profits. It is a clean, orderly, highly organized facility and has a full complement of well-maintained, late model equipment (even robots), a well trained, top notch workforce and an extremely efficient manufacturing system--a Die Factory System (DFS).

This shop of the future always has a large backlog of orders from customers who care about them. Substantial amounts of orders are on a T&M (time and material) basis, because the customer trusts them and vice-versa. The customers pay on a progressive billing arrangement which affords Ideal Tool an excellent cash flow. The profits are used wisely: updating technologies and equipment, employee training and some goes for research and development, as well. There also is an employee-sharing, bonus pool
distributed at the end of each calendar quarter, which makes the employees happy.

Ideal Tool Company's work environment is comfortable and healthy. Flexible hours are the usual case with a 24/7/365 operating schedule so that emergencies or hot projects can be readily handled. Deliveries are as required 100% of the time--with unbelievably short lead times. Highly skilled, friendly people are available for on-site visits to customers needing service.

Everywhere you look are graphical displays showing the processes, job progress, functional areas and standard work directions--nothing is left to chance--and it's all updated continuously. Departments work together in synchronized teamwork and errors are rarely made.

Products are constantly improved and new ones developed for specific needs. The company's product line includes many different kinds of tools and dies, molds and fixtures. Spare parts manufacturing is done as fill-in work to offset the frequent peaks and valleys in the industry. Everything is scheduled with a focus on being on time all the time. The whole place hums like a finely-tuned engine.

Ideal's reputation is second to none on the planet, and known as the place to go when you need a tool or die that matches your requirements exactly, and at a fair price. Innovation is Ideal's hallmark, enabled by a special suggestion plan that produces at least one good suggestion per week from each employee, most of which the company implements. Patents of many kinds adorn the office walls, as do numerous industry awards such as, Shingo Prizes, a Baldrige Award, customer letters of appreciation and community service and beautification plaques. Memberships in the most important trade associations, professional organizations and local service societies hang proudly as well.

PHEW! What a tour that was! You're probably thinking, Yeah, like that's ever going to happen, What a dreamer, etc., etc. Of course, as the song goes, "if you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?" That's what I see in my mind's eye. A passage in Robert F. Kennedy's eulogy sums up my feelings in this regard: "Some see things as they are and ask: Why? He saw things that never were and asked: Why not?"

So, is it a matter of Why not? Or is it, That's impossible? Well, the answer is, Absolutely! We CAN get to there from here. Is it simple? Well, sort of, but it's not easy by any means. It's not quick either, although major advances can be made in as little as six months--if everyone is on board fully. There will be pain and suffering, but it will be worth it, right? The worst part of becoming an Ideal Tool Company is ... we'd have to change things--lots of things--in ways we never dreamed of. We'd have to do things in ways that fly in the face of our long undisputed rules of thumb and common sense. However, the definition of improvement is: change for the better. Think about it. Einstein perhaps put it best: "The definition of insanity is: doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result." It ain't gonna happen.

Okay, we've got our marching orders: Get to where Ideal Tool Company is and do it now. The first problem is how to do it. The answer is in the title of this blog: Lean Tool and Die is what facilitated our vision of the future shop, the Ideal Tool Company, which operates in a DFS, a Die Factory System..

Stay tuned for my next posts on how to implement Lean principles in your one-off tool and die operation.

Lean DOES work in tool & die

Our consulting firm, G Corp, is dedicated exclusively to all things tool and die. My interest in applying Lean manufacturing principles to the tool and die industry actually began before the word Lean was coined as a substitute for the Toyota Production System, or TPS, in the landmark book, The Machine That Changed the World, published in 1991. TPS is that "machine" and it certainly has changed the world. However, the tool and die making industry has not embraced the idea.

As a matter of fact, the general thinking in the industry is that Lean won't work for tool and die shops because we only make one of a kind products, namely, dies. I've written a number of articles on the topic for various trade industry magazines in the past several years. They are available on our website,, for free. If you are in tool and die or stamping, check them out. Let me know what you think.

G Corp has developed a Die Factory System, DFS, which applies Lean for die makers as a total system approach, something that I believe has not been done anywhere on the planet, or at least no one is talking or writing about it. I'm interested in collaborating with shops and consultants that have done so or want to.