The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com
on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies
on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other
firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.
CHICAGO – Kevin Gingerich is the director of marketing services at the Bosch Rexroth linear motion and assembly technology
division. He recently spoke with international expert Michael Muth
about lean manufacturing, international issues and more. Listen to the
Michael Muth: Who are your customers?
One class is machine builders, metal cutting, medical, plastic
injection molding and packaging machines. Others are companies that are
automating their processes.
MM: Why do they buy Bosch Rexroth?
Rexroth has a 100-year history in providing quality that is above and
beyond other companies. There is an applications engineering and
consulting capability we have that sets us apart. Many of our
competitors are single-product companies.
MM commentary: Having lived and worked in Germany, I can attest that Bosch is huge, successful and worldwide.
MM: How is Bosch Rexroth’s approach to manufacturing different from its competitors?
KG: Not many of
our competitors focus heavily on lean manufacturing. We don’t see many
approaching customers on as comprehensive a basis as we do. You’re
limited by the technology you have in your product portfolio.
We believe the
type of product you make, the volume you make it in and the mix of
product you make combine to create the best approach.
MM: What’s the best way to forecast market and customer demand to create “pull” production?
KG: They go hand
in hand. When implementing lean manufacturing, you put together a value
stream map. You identify waste and create the tact or rhythm time. How
many parts do I need in a time increment?
created the time increment, you set up the production to match the time
increment. In lean manufacturing, you don’t make a part until you get
an order. As that tact time decreases, I can add a worker or automation
to increase production. The pull part is making parts as they’re
demanded by the tact time. The production rhythm commands everything.
going to be some variability. With almost everything we sell, you can
always bolt stuff together or take it apart so you can change it when
you need to. The important thing is that manufacturing engineers need
to leave themselves the option to expand or contract as needed.
MM commentary: Matching supply and demand in volatile times like these can be difficult to do.
MM: How do you optimize the flow of materials, people and information?
material flow, information flow and people flow is the most important
part of lean production. You can’t think of them as independent of each
other. If you take a manual work cell in material flow, you have
material flow within the work cell.
The material must
be organized so you’re not walking all over the place. There’s people
flow to and from the cell, too. You design the cell so material flows
to, through or from the cell to optimize the flow of people.
That takes us to
information flow. Most lean processes use visual signals. For example,
you hold up a card and someone delivers more parts and different colors
correspond to different parts so the tact time isn’t interrupted. Labor
cost is an important component as well.
The real trick is
making sure people who have skills can use those skills. Machines can
do some things and should do that work. In addition, though, there is
some work only humans can do.
MM: What organizational and communications changes are needed to implement lean manufacturing?
KG: There needs
to be a commitment from the top of the organization that it’s something
they’re going to do. Lean manufacturing is a philosophy of what you do
every day. Communications really needs to facilitate involvement.
It’s a system of
processes. You learn to understand, accept and appreciate solving
problems. It gives you something to fix like using the five whys or
asking why five times to get down to the root cause. You identify
opportunities for continuous improvement.
MM commentary: People have criticized me for asking “why?” five times and I’m not even lean.
MM: What results are reasonable to expect from lean manufacturing?
KG: Let me give
a simple example. We were looking at our shipping process with UPS and
FedEx. We took some measurements, errors, how much distance he walked
in a day and came up with 10 miles. What kind of improvement can we get
here? We got that down to 200 yards walked in a day.
Errors went from
70 to 15 in a month by implementing a one-piece flow system. By looking
at the process and eliminating opportunities for errors, forcing
information flow to happen and creating a system, you create more
predictability. You have less variation and fewer errors.
You create more
satisfied customers. Investment must have ROI calculation like
everything else. The equipment costs weren’t huge. We still had to
justify them to our financial managers. Once you evaluate a project,
see the waste and how much time can be saved, the ROI takes care of
MM: What trade-offs are involved in cutting from the supply chain?
KG: Some of the
trade-offs may have to do with personnel. In the case I just gave you,
he wasn’t a believer. He looked for something else. Outsiders descended
on his process and reinvented it for him.
If you have a few
people who don’t believe and insist on batch processing (i.e. “we’ve
always done it this way, so it’s the right way”), it can create
problems. If it’s the right way, it will stand up to the scrutiny of
You can cut materials and more and more people these days, but the
opportunity for IT companies is enhancing the information flow.
MM: How integrated are your customer supply chains? Worldwide? Continental? National?
KG: Just as
you’re optimizing material flow, distance has to be short. It can be
spatial or temporal. It’s learning where to position or place your
pieces around the globe to shorten pathways. There are serious
different languages and have different understandings of quality
control processes. They’re far away from the engineer who designed the
product. Those are distances that aren’t thought about these days. The
result is they’re buying because it’s cheaper but didn’t think of the
consider how fast or slow the change process can be when you’re working
overseas with those who don’t speak your language. There is a
tremendous opportunity to identify where the waste is and how to
optimize the processes to get the best result.
the biggest practitioners of lean manufacturing are the Japanese.
They’re getting closer to their customers. They’re pulling their
suppliers closer to them.
MM commentary: Making globally extended supply chains lean is a tremendously difficult task both spatially and temporally.
MM: Bosch Rexroth is a German-headquartered company. How does that affect your business in the U.S.?
manufacturing technology companies are often run by engineers and their
products are outstanding. The differences are in marketing and selling
of the product. We’re German, yes, but we’re global.
understands that. Sometimes there are mistranslations. English is the
language of record because we’re a global company. Sometimes the
translations are not as effective as we’d like them to be. For example,
one product changed from basic mechanical elements to basic mechanic
elements. It sounds like they cut up a mechanic.
simple as that can lead to waste. In getting it reviewed on a worldwide
basis with the volume of literature we produce, it sometimes slips
through the cracks. We have a lot of people and people make mistakes.
That’s the opportunity for improvement.
Germany is indeed the land of engineers. There’s good and bad in a
business sense with that. While you’ll see consistent incremental
evolutionary improvement there, you’ll rarely see the incredible
revolutionary leaps forward that come from Silicon Valley.
Check out Michael Muth’s blog here.
Michael Muth is managing director of GATA,
an international business development consultancy that helps technology
companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.
Previous Columns in 2007:E-Mail This Article to a Friend or Colleague
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Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies on Specific Country Issues (7/10/2007)
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Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Foreign Deal Making (5/15/2007)
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Click for 2006 column archive.
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.
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