Some toolmakers have been a little slow to adopt some of the principles of lean manufacturing. The thinking, as was explained to me in the past, is that each tool is a unique item. It's the opposite of mass production, so it doesn't fit the traditional concept of lean.
That attitude has (mostly) changed. Digital manufacturing and Industry 4.0 made it possible to program equipment like a CNC machine, then run it without an operator. That's been a big benefit for companies losing veteran employees to retirement.
Top companies have gone well beyond that, however, making it possible to run shops overnight or even all weekend long without any employees present. PN's Catherine Kavanaugh has a story from a virtual tour sponsored by the American Mold Builders Association of Nebraska toolmaker Dramco Tool Co. Inc., where owners expanded and reconfigured the shop in 2021 to dramatically cut the number of steps taken by employees on the job. One goal was to have everything, even the bathrooms, within a 30-second walk for workers.
"I think it has worked out really well. ... We've dramatically reduced the walking, probably an 80 percent reduction in moving around the shop," co-owner Justin Pfenning said. "We adopted a philosophy that we wanted to keep the things the toolmakers need the most the closest. That's a basic rule of lean."