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Focus: Manufacturing

Feature Article from Our Supply Chain Trends and Issues Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

Aug. 4 , 2011

Supply Chain News: Can Just a Little More Lean Revive US Manufacturing?


One Expert Says Yes, but Many Lean Factories have also Gone Offshore, Haven't They


SCDigest Editorial Staff

To revive US manufacturing, do more companies here simply need to get Lean religion?

Yes, says Jose Cordova, a long time 3M manufacuring engineer now running his own small manufacturing fim ( Valencia Flour Mill) in New Mexico as well as consulting for other manufacturers, writing on

SCDigest Says:


Examining our own �backyard� of factories will show us the real story behind manufacturing failures. A closer look into the actual production on the factory floor will also yield solutions for successful process engineering right here in America.

Jose Cordova

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Writes Cordova:

"I am a process and industrial engineer who once counseled New Mexican businesses through the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Prior to moving to New Mexico to start up my own food manufacturing business, I was a senior process engineer at the 3M Corporation in St. Paul, Minn. for 21 years.

Naturally, I care about whether “U.S. manufacturing is dead.”

No – manufacturing does not have to be dead if it is managed in the modern ways of Toyota, MIT’s Dr. Michael Cusumano, Dr. Richard Schonberger and of course, the quality guru himself, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Yes, inexpensive, yet revolutionary changes are possible in the manufacturing sector if more engineers will get the word out about “just-in-time” management, Japanese manufacturing techniques, lean manufacturing and much more.

The beauty of it is that any size factory can convert to these efficient, cost saving methods and succeed!

To save U.S. manufacturing, Americans must focus on the real problems behind the losses in factories here. Both problems and inherent opportunities for our manufacturing revival exist – they reside on the factory floor and nowhere else. Let’s not become distracted by government policies that may or may not change or by labor unions or by offshore business decisions.

Examining our own “backyard” of factories will show us the real story behind manufacturing failures. A closer look into the actual production on the factory floor will also yield solutions for successful process engineering right here in America.

Our Manufacturing Problems

In summary, our manufacturing problems include a mistaken reliance on inventory, creating long, expensive process delays and poor quality; on organizing the factory by departments rather than product flows; by disconnected processes that make poor quality products; by allowing too much space to produce manufactured goods, time-consuming changeovers from one product type to another and overstating the role of capital concerning process lines, equipment and automation.

The current trend toward offshore manufacturing was alive and well some 25 years ago when Ford Motor Company attempted to build a transaxle factory in the United States or Spain. Both factories were priced at $300 million, while Japan’s continuous flow factory was only $100 million. Naturally, Ford built that factory in Japan!

(Manufacturing article continued below)




How the Japanese could afford to design a factory one-third of the size and cost of the other two is no mystery or miracle. We can do the same if we would apply some smarter engineering principles such as lean manufacturing, Japanese manufacturing techniques and more.

Again, the effective solutions are found on the factory floor, so it is engineers and factory managers who can best solve them!

Multiple Solutions Remain Available

Policymakers and economists do form their opinions about this nationwide problem, yet it is those who direct the actual making of products who can apply practical solutions using new concepts and practices from the perspectives of mechanical, industrial, process and manufacturing engineering fields.

Fortunately, multiple solutions are available to reclaim American manufacturing success on our shores." (Cordova promises to afdress these solutions in future columns.)

From SCDigest's view, there is no question that many US factories could see improved performance from more Lean thinking and techniques. We have also seen cases where manufacturing companies decided to offshore a factory in the US rather than go through the effort of fixing the eisting operations, which is a shame.

Nevertheless, the US landscape is littered, it seems to us, with companies that had indeed adopted and ebraced Lean techniques, yet wound up offhsoring production nonetheless.

But we will agree this question is not one which has been well enough explored. We would love your thoughts on this.


Do you think more Lean practices are enough to revive US manufacturing? Or have we already been there done that? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

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