140+ year old foundry still learning new tricks with LEAN

By C.A. Lawton | July 30, 2020
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Several years ago, The C.A. Lawton Co. made a complete commitment to LEAN. LEAN methodology emphasizes simplifying and accelerating work processes while simultaneously improving product quality. Today, we’re a LEAN-centered company, not just doing some LEAN manufacturing techniques, we’re all in.

“Historically, we always made good castings and served customers relatively well. But as a manufacturer, we weren’t as good as we should be,” recalls Barry Adamski, Lawton’s President. “If we wanted to attract and retain more first-rate customers, we recognized that we needed to radically upgrade the efficiency of our operations.”

After looking at a number of possible avenues, Lawton management selected the LEAN methodology in 2016. “We dabbled with it for the first year, and then finally made a total commitment to it in 2017,” Barry adds. This was no small feat, because change brings lower productivity, and with it, lower revenue, and frustrations in the short term. “Most manufacturers aren’t willing to take such a risk to build a better future, especially in a high mix, low-to-medium volume environment. We decided it was essential if we wanted to grow and succeed as a company in the years ahead,” he recalls.

LEAN implementation has gained a lot of momentum at Lawton. Steps completed so far are many, including:

Kaizen super week

The week of May 18-22, 2020, the Lawton team embarked on an ambitious kaizen schedule which included three events. This article focuses on the first and second events of this kaizen week relating to the shakeout (unmolding) area. These events included a 6S and a TPM of the area.

The LEAN difference

Like most businesses, Lawton’s managers have historically focused on “the numbers” – meeting its primary financial and operational goals. But when the production of castings got delayed, the foundry had to resort to heroic efforts to get jobs done, causing many disruptions, including fatigued workers.

In contrast, LEAN emphasizes creating a much simpler workflow, so meeting your numbers doesn’t have to be a monumental effort. “In a LEAN organization, work flows more easily in response to the demand. We believe we can invest the time to do the work perfectly, with perfect safety because we’re using the right process,” Adamski points out. “Hitting the numbers becomes a side effect of having a remarkably simple but effective process, not an end unto itself.”

“We believe that LEAN is actually the best way to serve our customers,” he continues. “If we can get casting jobs done in half the time of our competitors and at a higher level of quality, we believe we’ll win more top-notch OEM customers.”

Culture change isn’t easy

LEAN represents a major culture change at Lawton. It’s a long, challenging journey, but the company’s leadership is committed to transforming it into a safer, faster, more productive, and successful manufacturing company.

“Think about it,” Adamski continues. “What would you do if someone came to you and said, ‘We’re going to take everything you’ve been doing for years, get the input of you and your peers, and then radically reorganize it?’”

“Keep in mind that one of the tenets of LEAN is that roughly 95% of everything you do in your work doesn’t add value to the finished product. Naturally, this causes a lot of pushback from employees, at least initially.”

“But after they get over the initial shock of their new LEAN processes and procedures, they can see for themselves that they’re more productive and experiencing much less stress,” Adamski points out. “There are far fewer delays and interruptions, and less rework. They soon realize that it’s a much better way to do their jobs.”

Lean’s impact stretches beyond manufacturing

According to Adamski, the top management team of Lawton is taking LEAN very seriously – to the point that it’s already part of the company’s recruitment process. Interviewees hear about its LEAN journey, both verbally and in writing. Interviewees are told that part of their job description will be to follow the LEAN 6S process to improve their work areas and processes. “We must attract people who will support our LEAN approach,” he points out.

In addition, as the company continues to prospect for new OEM customers, those that are implementing LEAN or a similar version of operational excellence or continuous improvement are likely to get greater attention.

“We’re in business to develop long-term relationships with our customers, not just do piece work for them. That’s been a core philosophy of Lawton throughout its 140+ year history. We believe we’ll be more successful by targeting OEMs who have a similar culture and values – including a commitment to LEAN,” Adamski concludes.  It’s the cornerstone of our business strategy, not just a manufacturing improvement thing.”