Getting lean is routine for George Koenigsaecker. And the manufacturing veteran believes the plastics industry can benefit from doing the same thing.
Koenigsaecker, president of Lean Investments LLC in Muscatine, Iowa, has been championing lean business and production practices for 25 years. In that time, he's led lean turnarounds - focusing on continuous improvement and reduction of waste - at 11 companies.
Included on that list is Hon Co., an office furniture maker Muscatine, Iowa, with $1.5 billion in annual sales.
Speaking at the Plastics News Survival Boot Camp, held Sept. 13-14 in Rosemont, Koenigsaecker said the two pillars of lean practices - as originated by Toyota Motor Corp. - are continuous improvement and respect for people.
``The first step is to learn to see waste,'' he explained. ``If you don't see waste, then lean is just theory.''
Koenigsaecker described a lean project he worked on at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, a submarine rebuilding facility in Bremerton, Wash. At the start of the project, the site's 24 job functions required 38 handoffs of work. As a result, jobs done at the site were completed 2½ months late, on average.
Lean practices reduced the number of handoffs at the shipyard to six and reduced work-flow times from more than 7,600 hours to just over 1,900. The site also saved a total of $2 million in the second and third years of the lean project.
``Return on investment goes up as perceived quality to customers goes up,'' said Koenigsaecker. ``Short, consistent lead times are what provide growth.''
He also cited the example of Ralph Wilson Plastics Co., a maker of decorative laminates in Temple, Texas. That firm's lean transformation produced a growth rate four times that of the industry average, according to Koenigsaecker.
But adopting lean standards can't be done simply by reading a book or attending a seminar. It requires management and all other personnel to buy into it.
``Some people say that lean `feels wrong' because it's the opposite of the way we've been taught to organize work,'' Koenigsaecker said. ``In lean, you need to ask `why' five times. You're examining the reasons why we do things. It's not hard to understand, but it's hard to do.''
The goals of a lean conversion are a fourfold increase in productivity and a reduction of 90 percent in lead time, errors and waste.
``You can't manage a lean conversion, you have to lead it,'' Koenigsaecker said. ``You not only have to ask `why' five times yourself, you have to teach your subordinates to do the same.''
In a bit of irony, Koenigsaecker said officials at Toyota took many of the principles of lean from practices originated by Henry Ford at Ford Motor Co. in the early years of the 20th century. Toyota eventually used Ford's ideas to surpass his company in the global automotive market, largely because Ford Motor had no system in place to continue its founder's teachings.
``At Ford, it was a one-generation phenomenon,'' Koenigsaecker said.