Freudenberg opens center to teach lean production

DETROIT - Freudenberg-NOK wants to help the rest of the auto industry think lean.

The seals and suspension components supplier has opened a teaching company, The Lean Center LLC, in its Plymouth, Mich., office. The center's 65 instructors are all Freudenberg employees.

Tom Faust, who has led Freudenberg's lean production program since 1994, will serve as the center's president.

The business already has one client, an auto supplier, Faust said. He would not disclose the client's name.

By spreading the lean gospel, Freudenberg expects to get preferential treatment in the form of new business from automakers and help eliminate an estimated $40 million of waste it says is caused by sloppy supplier performance.

The industry must be more proactive in applying knowledge from the Toyota Production System to eliminate costs in their own businesses, says Joseph Day, chairman of Freudenberg-NOK and the Original Equipment Suppliers Association in Troy, Mich.

"The process in the industry is to bully the value-added out of a low-tier supplier and get it into a higher tier company income statement," Day said. "That's profit shifting, not cost purging."

The center will offer courses targeted at helping automakers, Tier 1 and large Tier 2 suppliers rid themselves of waste. Courses are based on teachings from the Toyota Production System.

But some suppliers already have their own lean learning methods.

"We're always open to learning lean, but we're primarily focused on learning that from Toyota right now," said Kelly Sorice, spokeswoman for Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. in Troy, Mich.

SiemensVDO Automotive in Auburn Hills, Mich., would consider taking advantage of the center, says Dave Ladd, company spokesman.

"Siemens is certainly not above looking to others in the supply industry or anywhere else in the industry, especially best-in-class companies, for les-sons or new ways of improving, no matter what it might be, in the way we manufacture, design and deliver," he said.

The Lean Center's focus will be to train automotive companies, but if seats are empty, Day will teach companies outside the industry.

But companies considered direct competitors to Freudenberg's sealing or NVH businesses will not be allowed to enroll in classes.

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