Lean Article

Eric Whitley’s picture

By: Eric Whitley

Any company that decides to enter the mattress business is no doubt entranced by one undeniable fact: Everybody needs one.

Those companies that start producing and selling mattresses also quickly run into a harsh fact: Everybody already has one.

Purple saw opportunity. It looked at the positives and the negatives of the mattress business, and decided the only way to succeed was to be better than everyone else. Better innovators, better manufacturers, better fulfillment specialists. Simply put, Purple had to change the game.

So, it did. Purple is a comfort technology company that designs and manufactures products to help people feel and live better through innovative comfort solutions. Purple designs and manufactures a range of comfort technology products, including mattresses, pillows, and seat cushions. Brothers Tony and Terry Pearce, both engineers, founded Purple.

Their quest to design and build the world's best mattress resulted in an incredibly responsive, pliable, strong material called hyper-elastic polymer. They had a game-changing innovation; now, they just had to build it.

Sue Via’s picture

By: Sue Via

Research has shown that during economic uncertainty, companies that find a balance between reducing resources to survive and investing in key areas for growth will fare better through the recession and beyond. It’s a nuanced approach to playing offense and defense at the same time.

But many small and medium-sized manufacturers that have been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic find themselves with what seem to be few options. They have reduced resources to the point that they have no time for anything beyond operations. When they do have time, it’s from a decrease in business, which means they do not have money to invest.

As a result, they may have become risk-averse, hesitant to upgrade machinery, or hire before business returns. But opportunity involves risk. Hunkering down to wait out economic uncertainty is typically not a path for future stability, growth, or even change.

A key for getting out of risk-aversion mode is creating a culture that encourages ideas and is willing to question if there might be a better way to do something. Continuous improvement starts with a mindset. But it also depends on a methodology or systems so that activities become part of routines and are measured and reviewed.

K. C. Morris’s picture

By: K. C. Morris

The Covid pandemic has highlighted the role that manufacturing plays in our society. Manufacturing is important not only for improving our quality of life but also for the necessities of life, from food to toilet paper to transportation and safe and secure housing.  As our society has evolved, we have learned better ways to manufacture and are able to create an amazing variety of products. But providing these goods is not without side effects to the environment, and care is needed to manage the impacts of our production systems.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), sustainable manufacturing refers to the ability to manage manufacturing operations “in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.” Standards and programs of various kinds have formed around this idea, but many only scratch the surface of what could be accomplished if we had better measurement science to really evaluate the trade offs that manufacturers must make every day to be sustainable.

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

By: Thomas R. Cutler

More than 80 percent of U.S. food manufacturing plants operating today were built more than 20 years ago and may lack safety features. The average age of manufacturing assets and equipment currently in operation in the United States, according to IndustryWeek, is close to 20 years, and since 1990, the age of assets has virtually doubled.

This means equipment such as conveyors, pallet jacks, and tuggers represent myriad potential safety hazards. Addressing those issues means that more maintenance, more labor, more training, and more certifications are required, all of which come with a steep price tag.

Multiple Authors
By: Ryan E. Day, Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest, Taran March @ Quality Digest

In order to best illustrate how enterprisewide SPC software can help address shop-floor problems and then funnel the captured data to the corporate level where strategic issues can be analyzed, here is a case study of a hypothetical manufacturing facility. In it, the company makes effective use of SPC for data-driven decisions.

A global food products manufacturing company with 11 sites worldwide had chosen to master quality, both tactically and strategically, as its top goal. Each site collected and analysed data in the company’s enterprisewide SPC software, both to monitor and respond to quality issues at the site, and to share those same data with the corporate office.

At the company’s Prague site, the quality manager looked at her shop-floor data for the previous month. As figure 1 indicates, the software reported a total of 737 events, which at first glance seemed like a big deal to the manager. However, on closer inspection, she could see that these weren’t massive quality issues with the product or processes. However, there were 517 missed data checks. Although not a line-stopping issue, missed checks could result in noncompliance to agreements with customers or industry requirements.

Michael Popenas’s picture

By: Michael Popenas

Product development (PD) is the life blood of a company’s success and is the process for innovation. Today, product life cycles are shrinking due to an ever-increasing number of competitive and disruptive products coming to market quicker.

To stay in business, a company’s PD needs to become more effective, more productive, and faster. Product development systems can no longer take years or months to deliver something that the customer will hopefully still want. Planning, design and development, testing, and release can no longer rely on the currently widely practiced sequential phase-gate waterfall methods developed years ago.

Multiple Authors
By: Sridhar Kota, Glenn Daehn

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed glaring deficiencies in the U.S. manufacturing sector’s ability to provide necessary products—especially amidst a crisis. It’s been five months since the nation declared a national emergency, yet shortages of test kit components, pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, and other critical medical supplies persist.

Globalization is at the heart of the problem. With heavy reliance on global supply chains and foreign producers, the pandemic has interrupted shipping of parts and materials to nearly 75 percent of U.S. companies.

LauraLee Rose’s picture

By: LauraLee Rose

The reality for small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) is that they are going to have to be good at training their workforce or they won’t make as much money. That’s a blunt assessment, but the need for proficiency in training will only increase, whether it’s retraining current employees for new products, processes, and equipment or getting new employees up to speed more quickly. Effective training should be able to drive down the time for training.

Katie Myers’s picture

By: Katie Myers

Freight trucks account for 23 percent of U.S. transportation. Transportation is the No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions in America. The country’s freight industry is in no position to ignore its impact on the environment and the greater good.

We can break down the trucking industry’s environmental impact further. Each market segment emits the following amount of carbon emissions every year:
• Truckload (TL): 836 million tons of emissions
• Partials: 722 million tons of emissions
• Less-than truckload (LTL): 342 million tons of emissions

Fortunately, at least one logistics provider is committed to reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. Flock Freight is transforming the $400 billion freight landscape by eliminating inefficiency and waste through green shipping practices.

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Knowledge at Wharton’s picture

By: Knowledge at Wharton

We’ve all been in lines that seem to last forever, especially if we choose our queue at the checkout, and the one next to ours is moving faster. You know the existential dread that comes along with standing in a dedicated queue and waiting interminably. To make service of all kinds more efficient, the predominant thinking in operations management is to form a single serpentine line that feeds different servers—a pooled queue.

Traditional operations management theory has determined that pooling is more efficient. And it may be, if tasks or widgets are the items in the queue, and it’s machines, not human beings, that are processing them. In a system with dedicated queues, it’s possible to have one that’s empty and another queue that’s full but no way to rebalance this. If the queue contains customers, naturally they can switch to the empty queue. But when we consider job assignments, for example, these can’t just move across queues. So the dedicated queue is viewed as less efficient than a pooled one in terms of throughput and waiting time.

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