Make American Manufacturing Great Again


Manufacturing still remains a vital part of the American economy.  Many factors make America a great place for manufacturing: a large and nearby market, common language, good culture of business ethics, low cost fuel, strong design and engineering talent, robust distribution and logistics, reasonably low cost labor, and the overall trend to speed and faster turn-around time.

As such, manufacturing many products, when done best in class, can be done more cost-effectively in the U.S. than anywhere else.

But, how?  How can we begin to improve our manufacturing plants to be the best that they can be?

It is not rocket science.  It does not need to cost millions of dollars.  Instead, it just requires great teamwork and excellent execution on each of the 14 manufacturing fundamentals.  All of these fundamentals can be started today, and only one of these will require any significant time or expense.


  1. Require relentless cooperation and coordination across the entire value chain: prototyping, designing, engineering, order entry, manufacturing, and delivery.
    1. Unlike in the cartoon above, design, engineering, and production need to be working together hand in glove on a daily basis to resolve issues and problems.
      1. Whenever feasible, locate product design and engineering on or near the production floor to improve this coordination.
      2. Improve product design and engineering to enhance manufacturability while still providing the design aesthetics, functionality and reliability that the customer requires.
    2. Focus on achieving global optimization in the value chain
      1. The best and most elegant design; the most efficient production; the least cost delivery fleet – none of these does the business any good if they impede and constrain the other functions in the value chain.


  1. Create a ‘safety first’ workplace culture that ensures the work environment is safe, potential hazards are eliminated, and the work force is fully engaged in ensuring that everyone is safe.
    1. Begin and end all discussions with safety
    2. Keep safety front of mind for every worker and on all major decisions.


  1. Drive a quality focus in each and every employee
    1. Have a process and a culture where problems are clearly brought to light and then fully resolved
    2. Jidoka
      1. Stop the production line and notify immediately of any abnormalities ensuring that errors are identified and eliminated at the point of commission
      2. Done well, this leads to a focus on eliminating all variability in production and the product (six sigma) and thus higher quality.
    3. Ensure that the design and engineering teams design in quality


  1. Be extreme with housekeeping
    1. Have a robust 5S program (sort, straighten, sweep, sanitize and sustain)
      1. Everything in its place and a place for everything.
      2. Throw away everything except what is needed.
    2. Eliminate and minimize inventory wherever possible
      1. Work with vendors to reduce inventory at the location as much as possible: JIT (just in time)
      2. Especially minimize inventory at each individual work station


  1. Value stream map the entire value process
    1. Map out the entire process from order receipt to delivery
      1. What is each key step?
      2. Who does each step?
      3. How long does each step take?
      4. What are the few key metrics to determine the success or failure of the process?


  1. Regularly analyze the value stream to ensure that the value process is as customer centric, quick, and cost-effective as possible
    1. Does the process work?
      1. Does the process achieve efficiently what it is designed to achieve?
      2. How much waste is there in the process?
      3. Is the process as simple as possible?
      4. Is the process repeatable on a consistent basis?
    2. Determine the direction that the production flows (push v. pull)
      1. Work to ensure that production is pulled through the plant based on what the customers need not pushed through based on what can be produced today to hit our production numbers.
    3. Determine the critical path
      1. What activities need to be done in series to complete the process?
      2. What activities can be done in parallel?
      3. What can be done to shorten the length of time the product is in production?
    4. Determine time lines for each activity
      1. Determine the Takt Time (time between the start of production of one unit to the next) on each area or station of the value chain.
      2. Determine change over times
    5. Spaghetti map the movements of the products and employees on the floor
      1. Measure the distances parts and people travel throughout the manufacturing facility
    6. Determine the constraint on the operation that reduces throughput
      1. What is the absolutely most important bottleneck, critical resource, limiting factor, or rate-determining step in the operation?


7. Simplify and improve the value stream

  1. Address and eliminate the constraint
    1. Focus relentlessly on this constraint subordinating all else to eliminating the constraint
    2. Eliminate the constraint, then determine the next constraint, then address and eliminate that constraint.
    3. Repeat this task until the overall production line is roughly balanced and no one station or activity is a bottleneck.
    4. This may require moving equipment and parts several times until we find the right location that creates uninterrupted flow and the greatest possible throughput.
  2. Ensure that production is being pulled through the operation with the downstream determining what the upstream is to do.
    1. Only produce what is required
    2. It is better to have employees standing around doing nothing than producing products for which there is no demand
  3. Simplify, speed up, and improve the process always focusing on increasing throughput
    1. By focusing on the critical path, squeeze time out of the cycle from order receipt through shipment by eliminating redundant tasks and tasks that do not contribute directly to output or quality.
    2. “Visualize” the operation to make it as simple and intuitive as possible
      1. Kanban (instruction cards)
      2. Supermarket-like signage and directions
    3. Reduce setup and changeover time to insignificance
      1. SMED (Single minute exchange of die) means a relentless focus to eliminate changeover time
  4. Look for ways to eliminate common mistakes
    1. Poka-Yoke – foolproofing the machines and the operations
  5. Institute ways to increase the amount of time employees are productively working at their work stations
    1. Look at scheduling and timing of worker breaks and lunches
    2. Consider vending machines at the work stations to dispense needed items
    3. Ensure that inventory is located nearby


  1. Automate
    1. Ensure that the value stream process has been made as a robust as possible given the technology currently available at the plant.
    2. Only then, should we invest in better machinery, robotics, sensors, IoT (internet of things) to improve the quality and throughput even more.
    3. After the investment, repeat fundamentals 5 – 7.

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” Bill Gates


  1. Measure production at each station and its progress to target on an hourly and daily basis and make visible to everyone
    1. Andon (a device with signal lights to indicate which workstation has a problem)
    2. Whiteboards
    3. Make the information digestible
      1. Keep it simple with a focus only on the key metrics
      2. Use traffic light colors (red, yellow, green) to allow a quick and visual understanding of the problem areas.


  1. Institute a simple and measurable, yet robust, cost accounting system
    1. Ensure that there are accurate bills of materials and thus accurate product costings
    2. Ensure that there is a daily way to determine variance to standards at each work station and at the manufacturing plant overall


  1. Create a culture of continuous improvement and problem finding and solving
    1. Celebrate employees that find problems or inefficiencies
    2. Celebrate employees that solve problems or improve on inefficiencies
    3. Hold regular kaizen events (improvement events) focused on how to increase throughput in the manufacturing facility
    4. Have an employee suggestion box and regularly implement employee and other suggestions
    5. Create a robust problem solving culture using root cause analysis
      1. Toyota’s five whys (repeatedly ask the question Why? to determine the root cause of a problem)


  1. Maintain equipment so well that breakdowns simply do not happen
    1. Institute a preventive maintenance plan and track with appropriate software
      1. Start out small with just the critical pieces of equipment to avoid overwhelming
      2. Build up and make more robust over time.


  1. Practice the daily fundamentals
    1. Ensure that every day the management team and each and every employee is thinking
      1. Safety
      2. Quality
      3. Throughput (On-Time Delivery)
      4. Housekeeping
      5. Preventive Maintenance


  1. Finally, every day in every way, keep things simple, clean, and intuitive
    1. A world-class manufacturing operation (like world-class design) looks simple, clean and intuitive.


Best of luck to all of us as we execute on these fundamentals and “Make American Manufacturing Great Again.”


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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