An Industry Stuck in the Past

Over the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to visit an industry that has some of the largest manufacturing facilities in the United States. There were five distinct things about each one of the facilities that I noticed the second I walked out onto the manufacturing floor:

  1. The equipment was very old, typically 1940’s vintage
  2. The equipment was very dirty and well worn
  3. The air smelled of machine lubrication
  4. The sound level in each facility was very loud and the floor shook as the machines processed their components
  5. There were massive amounts of inventory everywhere representing the many different stages of the process

With my background in manufacturing and lean automated equipment, I was overwhelmed at the opportunity for improvement and waste elimination associated with this industry.

In many of the facilities, I noticed lots of manual labor sorting components.  After asking why, the pat answer was, “This is how we ensure a quality part makes it to our customers.”  My immediate thought was, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”  After probing a bit I found that there were very few, if any, in-process inspections to ensure quality product was coming off the end of the manufacturing line.

The level of NCM (Non Compliant Material) throughout the plants was out of control.  I found bins of parts with NCM tags as old as 2 years in one facility.  Again, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” popped into my mind.

I’ve spent much of my past 20 years in the Aerospace, Automotive and Medical device industries.  In each of these industries, modern equipment and processes as well as lean manufacturing techniques were employed to ensure the products being produced were of the most high quality and reliability.

So what has kept this industry from stepping up and joining the ranks of world class manufacturers and what can be done to break this cycle of inefficient manufacturing?  I don’t know but am confident that someday, some company will break the mold and embrace lean thinking.  When that happens all the other companies in this industry will have no choice but to follow or be left behind.

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