Freudenberg Sealing Technologies has been practicing lean and continuous improvement for three decades with 2022 marking a 30-year continuous improvement journey for this manufacturer of industrial seals. That’s remarkable longevity in a manufacturing landscape littered with manufacturing companies that couldn’t make lean work for them or have been sorely disappointed in their continuous improvement results.
Freudenberg’s own experience hasn’t been easy. “Motivating people to go in the same direction” is a challenge, says Vicky Jandreau (pictured above), Freudenberg Sealing Technologies' global vice president of lean and Growtth, an acronym for Get Rid of Waste Through Team Harmony, the company’s long-standing improvement program.
Three decades of lean and continuous improvement under its belt, however, has given the manufacturer ample opportunities to experiment with new methods, develop new mindsets, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. And it doesn’t hesitate to share those lessons.
In November, for example, Jandreau spoke at the Manufacturing & Technology Show in Cleveland. Jandreau, who started with the company as a shop-floor operator, discussed the evolution of Growtth from tools and training into a culture of continual learning.
The vice president outlined key factors that contributed to Growtth’s success:
- Top-down approach. It’s critical to have an engaged top-level executive. Moreover, in year one that top executive must be engaged 20% of the time in transformation efforts. That said, a top-down approach doesn’t mean corporate-level employees do all the work. “It must come from all directions,” she says.
- Steering committee. This committee makes sure activities are aligned with business needs. Make sure the committee is cross-functional.
- Dedicated resources. Freudenberg targets one full-time lean black belt per 100 employees.
- Seize or create a crisis. If there isn’t a compelling reason to change, create one. People need to understand why they must change, the VP says.
- Promote constant change. “Change means change for the better,” Jandreau explains. “It’s not that people don’t like change, it’s that they are afraid of change.”
- Remove resistance. Be prepared to ask managers to leave voluntarily if they are unwilling or unable to lead a lean transformation.
- No layoff policy. Remove the fear that kaizen activity will lead to job loss.
- Cross-functional teams. Jandreau notes that customers and processes should be the focus, not functional hierarchies. Waste lies between functions and a focus on function prohibits flow.
- Policy deployment. The company’s lean agenda should be built into policy/ strategy deployment.
- Create a vision. The vision is the destination the business is working toward. She advises using “North Star” metrics, citing such examples as single piece flow or zero defects.
- Lean expert meetings. These get-togethers are a means to reenergize the lean experts. At Freudenberg Sealing Technologies they occur twice a year and promote best practices sharing, networking and training.
- Kaizen schedule. Kaizen activities are planned out, with a goal of 10 per employee at Freudenberg. Kaizen teams typically number between six and eight people. Importantly, the kaizen activity is tied to business-unit KPIs.
- Kaizen training. Attendance is required for kaizen team members.
- Making it stick. People and performance will regress if you don’t create barriers, says Jandreau. Therefore, when progress is made, the extra resources must be removed.
A Learning Organization
Continuous improvement doesn’t have an endpoint, and neither does Freudenberg’s journey. Today, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies describes itself as a learning organization. As the name implies, that translates to supporting an environment conducive to continual learning, to sharing ideas, to making changes for the better based on those ideas. Even to looking outside the enterprise for best practices.
Programs supporting the learning organization model include Best Practice Exchange Days—one-day events at best practice sites; yearly Rapid Plant Assessments— a platform created to drive improvement plans and action; and a robust calendar of training events.
“We learn faster when we share,” Jandreau says.