The most successful manufacturing organizations in America speak a new language: that of lean manufacturing. Corporations that live lean daily use words such as one-piece flow, 5S and kaizen as part of an overall philosophy that sometimes is misunderstood. “Lean” is simply a manufacturing concept designed to provide the optimum framework for efficient, competitive production. The lean production system is a management philosophy that embraces all aspects of industrial operations by focusing on the reduction of waste from the value stream in order to remain competitive in a world driven economy.
Historically, welding-intensive organizations have adopted new technology more slowly than other industries. As a result, these companies approach welding, fabrication and assembly the same old inefficient way: inefficiently.
So that the welding industry can benefit, Vermeer Mfg. Co. of Pella, IA, and Miller Electric Mfg. Co. of Appleton, WI, have agreed to share information from their lean welding journey. Vermeer’s results speak volumes to the power of lean welding. Here are just a few examples:
- The ability to turn raw materials into finished goods in days, not weeks. Vermeer has demonstrated year-over-year improvements of 200 to 300% for four consecutive years on some lines.
- Year-over-year safety incident and severity rate reductions of 10 to 15%.
Some of Vermeer's best-known products include brush chippers, trenching and trenchless equipment and round balers. The company is known for taking care of its customers with better solutions, and for its 4P philosophy: principles, people, products and profit. This philosophy drives all company activity. Vermeer defines lean manufacturing as a time-based strategy that focuses on lead-time reduction through waste elimination in every area of production, including customer relations, product design, supplier networks and factory management. Lean encompasses five key measurable aspects: quality, cost, delivery, safety and morale.
Miller Electric, a manufacturer of welding and cutting equipment and systems, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works (ITW). Miller Electric has incorporated ITW’s philosophy, which aligns well with lean concepts. The philosophy is led by the Pareto principle of 80/20, which provides focus. Focus leads to simplification by empowerment of the people at the right level in a flat, responsive organizational structure.
These processes are really about simplifying and focusing on the key parts of a business. Simplicity focuses action, while complexity often blurs what is important. The process of simplification includes finding ways to simplify product lines, customer and supply base, and business processes and systems. In the end, 80/20 improves quality, productivity, delivery, innovation, market penetration, and ultimately, customer satisfaction.
Many Products, One Process
Vermeer’s lean journey started nearly a decade ago, with lean welding becoming an emphasis in 2003 when the company committed to using a single process (solid wire pulsed gas metal arc welding, or pulsed MIG) for all of its production welding. At that time, about 40% of its 220 production welding stations used pulsed GMAW. Also at that time, the company used eight different models of welders from at least three different vendors.
Vermeer’s first steps in lean welding were to standardize on one process for all of its production welding, reduce the number of welder models from eight to two and select a lean welding vendor partner.
Standardizing on new welding technology would provide numerous benefits:
- Simplify welding training.
- Provide flexibility when deploying welding talent in different areas.
- Improve operator performance (higher production rates with fewer errors and better morale).
- Eliminate sources of variability between welding stations and shifts.
- Simplify and streamline maintenance by greatly reducing parts count; maintaining 300 welders of the same design enables maintenance to become very proficient.
- Change the typical vendor-supplier relationship into a vendor-partner relationship where each party contributes more to the value chain and benefits accordingly.