By now, probably hundreds of books have been written about lean manufacturing, and the number of consultants who focus their practices on lean reaches double digits, if not higher.
While both sources provide a good foundation of learning, there's an argument to be made that the best way to learn about lean is to see it in action and share with others who are going down a similar path.
So suggests Shane Marshall, a business development manager at Livingston & Haven in Charlotte, N.C., and steering committee member of the Metrolina Lean Alliance. Books and consultants have been part of the company's lean experience, but "you really learn the most by sharing with other people going through it," Marshall says. "[The alliance] is almost an extra group of employees who have been through it."
|Livingston & Haven's Powercurbers work cell, in which the company provides value-added services to supplied engines, presented the company with a quick lean win. A redesigned layout reduced the square footage of the cell by 50% and reduced the time it takes to perform the required work.|
The Metrolina Lean Alliance is a member-based group of organizations located in the Rock Hill, S.C.-Charlotte, N.C., region. Organization members share ideas about lean with each other during monthly meetings at rotating facilities, with the host location demonstrating its lean efforts under way. The Metrolina alliance is one of seven South Carolina lean alliances sponsored by that state's Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Alliance members pay annual dues.
Alliance members typically are not all at the same point in their lean efforts. While some may be textbook lean organizations, others are not. That's a good thing, Marshall suggests.
"The variety of lean experiences makes us feel not alone in our struggles," he says. It also demonstrates that lean "is not something you can do overnight."
Livingston & Haven joined the Metrolina Lean Alliance in 2007. "For us it was another avenue to learn as much as we could about lean," Marshall says.
Manufacturers aren't the only members of the alliance. Indeed, while Livingston & Haven offers custom-engineered solutions, it also is a distributor and even has two retail outlets. The Metrolina Lean Alliance includes such manufacturers as Timken and Wikoff Color Corp., but it also includes State Farm's East Coast distribution warehouse.