Larry Jutte: Honda wants to stay ahead of the competition with its lean manufacturing practices.
The industry already perceives Honda as a global benchmark for efficient car production.
Now the automaker is asking its North American plant managers and suppliers to seek a higher performance level.
The company is working with U.S. lean consultants on training programs. This month, Honda executives met with several suppliers in Toronto to discuss setting up lean manufacturing programs around the North American supply chain.
In the 1980s, lean manufacturing became a synonym for Japanese production methods. The techniques, used mostly by Honda and Toyota Motor Corp., have created a standard for all automakers.
Consultants across North America help companies operate with lower scrap rates, better plant layouts, carefully choreographed work routines, and parts and production flows that require minimal inventories.
But these are all things that Honda already practices.
Larry Jutte, senior vice president and general manager for parts and procurement at Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. in Marysville, Ohio, concedes that Honda may have helped introduce those ideas to the industry.
But the company is returning to school just to stay ahead of the competition.
"We may be pretty good, but there's always waste out there," Jutte says.
Honda is pressing its suppliers to find ways to cut waste in their production system.
For starters, Honda is seeking ideas from three nonautomotive manufacturers: Dell Inc. and Microsoft Corp., and aircraft maker Lockheed Martin Corp.
"We do a lot of things very well, like die changing," Jutte says. "But there are a lot of other things we don't do well. Lockheed does some things in supplier selection that we're interested in. Microsoft is doing some things we can't even comprehend. Like, how do you do a new-model launch in one month?"
For the first time, Honda also wants to embrace faster inventory turns. That is a critical measure of lean manufacturing.
"We don't talk much at Honda in terms of inventory turns," Jutte says. "But we're going to."
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