Wisconsin manufacturing: Get LEAN, get hired

By John Schmid, JSOnline

The Wisconsin economy, as it gets buffeted by steep commodity costs and a slowdown in North America, has never seen a greater demand for lean-manufacturing techniques, according to a non-profit agency that assists state manufacturers.

Lean manufacturing typically involves a process of continuous improvement meant to eliminate waste, lower production costs, improve technologies, and employ workers, materials, equipment and space with maximum efficiency. Suppliers are encouraged to deliver “just in time” to keep inventories at a minimum.

While Japanese companies such as Toyota have honed lean manufacturing for many years, it was more of a “novelty” in Wisconsin until only six or seven years ago, said Michael Klonsinsky, executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

And while lean manufacturing in the past three or four years has become the No. 1 “operational strategy” for the WMEP’s field officers, these days the plant managers want to extend lean operations beyond the plant floor and into the supply chains, back offices and inventories, Klonsinsky said.

He spoke in an interview on the day that WMEP released statistics that showed that 185 Wisconsin companies, which WMEP has helped in some capacity in the most recent one-year period, retained or created 1,235 jobs. The survey, however, didn’t break out the numbers to show how many companies increased staff or sales, or decreased staff or sales, or even went out business. “We lump it all together,” the official conceded.

The agency, with an $8 million annual budget, has 33 full-time field officers. It gets funding from state and federal sources as well as from fees it charges the companies that it serves.

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