For companies looking to adopt lean manufacturing principles, the key is to find workers who are "early adopters" and make their efforts to lead the change highly visible.
That was the strategy followed by fuel system and chassis component supplier TI Automotive of Warren, Mich., when it started its move to lean manufacturing in 1997.
In the past seven years, TI Automotive has seen its labor and inventory costs drop 50 percent because it is using lean principles, said Mike Vella, vice president of the supplier's brake and fuel group in North America, at the Management Briefing Seminars on Monday.
TI Automotive has also seen a drop in quality problems. "We're down to 2 parts per million with GM," Vella said. "You can't get to that just by inspecting parts.
"Change is one of the most difficult things that people will not do," he said. But it also requires a major change in culture within a company, which must be driven from the leadership.
It is also important for companies to realize that you have to spend some money to get the gains from switching to lean.
"It's just like auto racing," Vella said. "Lean manufacturing costs money. The question is how fast do you want to go?"
But while TI Automotive's labor costs have gone done, Vella said it hasn't been due to a wholesale reduction of employees. "There's been enough turnover in the organization that there's been a position for everyone," he said.
TI Automotive is spreading lean manufacturing throughout its plants around the world. But its success, though, has made its manufacturing executives sought-after candidates for jobs at other suppliers, Vella noted.
The drive for cost cuts is relentless, Vella said. "All our customers want Neiman Marcus service at Target prices."