Trim the Fat
Component Suppliers Can Help in the Quest for Lean
by Lee Burroughs
Insulating glass (IG) manufacturers don’t have to fly solo when implementing lean concepts into their operations. They can lean on suppliers to do their part as well.
Our company has enlisted the services of a lean manufacturing expert to not only improve its own manufacturing efficiencies, but to help identify areas where its spacer products can contribute to its customers’ lean operations.
In doing so, David Veech, executive director of The Institute for Lean Systems, toured a broad mix of IG and window manufacturing facilities to trace the use of spacers from when they arrive on the dock to when they’re applied to glass.
“Lean is interpreted in many different ways and it’s always a work in progress. It’s about setting the goal of perfection and continuing to work toward it,” Veech said. “Lean teaches you that thinking about old processes from new perspectives can lead to breakthrough changes. And those different perspectives can come from your supply chain.”
Understanding the Customer
As a supplier, we must be committed to understanding each customer’s specific value proposition. We’re the expert on the product we supply, but how well do we understand how our customers use the product, how they order the product and how we deliver it to them? Knowing these answers can help shape the efficiency of their operations.
“The opportunities to improve these boundary operations—the processes right at the interface between customer and supplier—benefit both organizations,” Veech said.
If you think your spacer can’t make your manufacturing operations leaner, think again.
Note how your spacer arrives at your facility. Is it the right quantity and delivered just-in-time to be installed on your equipment? Is it ready to use right out of the box? When quantities are depleted, how quick is the changeover? Is the packaging appropriate for how it’s transported and stored? Can the packaging be recycled or reused?
“Lean is not producing to meet a productivity number, and productivity is not always the best measure to tell you how well you’re satisfying your customer,” Veech said. “Rather, lean is matching production with customer consumption as closely as you can, and part of that is delivery of product at times they’ll use it.”
We’ve explored numerous ways to improve the delivery process to match the needs of the customer. As customers continue to move toward make-to-order rather than make-to-forecast philosophies they’re requiring smaller, but more frequent, deliveries. We’ve even looked at installing webcams to continually monitor customer consumption from our end and deliver without a specific purchase order. An empty square taped to the floor in the field of view of the camera would mean it’s time to deliver another shipment. Unconventional perhaps, but this kind of innovative thinking sets the direction we’re headed with delivery cycles.
Now that the spacer is in your facility, how can it help you realize manufacturing efficiencies?
Observe how your spacer is applied to the glass. Are there intermediate handling or additional process steps required, such as a cooling or curing period? How many times does the glass need to be handled? Is there variability in the adhesives and sealants used? Is the spacer flexible enough to be used interchangeably with custom shapes of glass as well as common squares and rectangles? How quickly can operators apply the spacer and how much training is involved with a new operator?
Can you build just what you need or does the process create excess waste? Can the process be automated to minimize variability and reduce defects and hazards to operators?
Take advantage of your suppliers’ expert knowledge of their products and challenge them to do their part in making your operations leaner. You’ll both realize significant benefits.
Lee Burroughs is the vice president of manufacturing and an efficiency expert for Truseal Technologies Inc. He can be reached at
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