When you read about a company, there is one very notable combination of phrases that will immediately tell you that they are probably knee-deep into real lean manufacturing. An example of that combination are the following statements from a recent article on the Atlantic Broom Company:
The company produces annual revenue of $10-to-$20 million, and has been growing at a rate sometimes exceeding 40 percent a year.
The company just moved into a new 40,000 facility that is slightly smaller than the old one.
Growing, and very rapidly at that, and also moving to a smaller facility. That takes guts, or at least a strong understanding of process capacity in a lean environment. How many of us would look for a smaller facility if business was doubling every couple of years?
But the story gets even better. Atlantic Broom makes industrial brooms, street sweeper brooms, snow plow blades, and aluminum highway signs. During peak periods they can make almost 1,200 signs a day, and over the past two years they have shipped over 20,000 to the military. Almost all competitive-bid government contracts for low margin high labor content products. Do they complain about "competitiveness burdens"? Are they chasing low-cost labor around the world? Nope.
While some companies with high knowledge content products are laying off thousands of years of experience to save a couple bucks in Mexico, American Broom is growing 40% a year in making low margin products in high-cost New England. They are family-owned, which gives them the luxury of not being beholdened to short-term stockholders. They focus on improving processes, creating a culture that respects and grows their people, and providing impeccable customer service.
American Broom could teach Whirlpool a thing or two about manufacturing.