Customer benefits of LEAN

By C.A. Lawton | September 11, 2019

LEAN. When we remove the culinary connotations of the word and apply it to manufacturing, we are referring to the idea of maximizing customer value. Therefore, to title this blog as Customer Benefits of LEAN represents a level of redundancy that even Monty Python would admire. But let us describe how the principles of LEAN are being applied at The C.A. Lawton Co. and the significant customer value it has yielded.

The term LEAN was applied to the manufacturing process in the early 1990s in an MIT study of the automotive industry. This study resulted in the publication “The Machine That Changed the World” by Womack, Jones and Roos.

In that publication, it was stated “Lean production…is ‘lean’ because it uses less of everything compared with mass production – half the human effort in the factory, half the manufacturing space, half the investment in tools, half the engineering hours to develop a new product in half the time.”        

                                                                                    The Machine that Changed the World

                                                                                    Womack, Jones, Roos, ©1990, pg. 13

Now let us look at that theory in the light of the practical application of The C.A. Lawton Co. foundry. We are not a production-line foundry. We would be classified as more of a job shop facility. We produce castings in low volumes and large sizes that do not fit economically on a traditional production line.

Therefore, it is a more labor-intensive, manual effort than employed by others in our industry who supply castings smaller in size and in much larger volumes. Our hand-molded process would traditionally be considered more craft work than the mechanized process employed by the production type facility.

So how does a theory that espouses reduction in human effort, space, tooling and engineering fit with a company operating on these very principles? By remembering LEAN is not a process to remove people, tools or engineering from its system. It is a process to remove the wasteful parts of each of these things. What is left are the activities that directly contribute to the benefits the customer will realize.

Let us review three specific applications of LEAN at The C.A. Lawton Co.:

Application 1 – Quoting and Contract Review

The process of quoting at Lawton, when reviewed on a price-per-piece basis, is a very expensive one. A review of the entire quoting process through kaizen events indicated that the biggest waste was inaccuracy. That was the direct result of a lack of information when preparing the estimate.

Often, assumptions were made based on best guesses and not on any defined specification. If the customer does not have a specification, best guesses can be the only option. But if the specification was incorrectly assumed, the work performed was wasted. In addition to having to re-do the quotation with the correct specification, time is lost that could be used working on another task. This is not adding value to the overall customer experience.

To limit this, the Lawton team developed a comprehensive checklist of items. It is basically documented standard work to be followed when preparing any quotation. Although not every single question can always be answered, the checklist is used to keep items from getting overlooked. Overlooked items not only require additional preparation time later, the additional costs required to cover these “added” services will cause variances in the price. If they are not discovered prior to the time of order, requoting both by our team and our customer to their customer may be required. 

Another added benefit to the customer is more of an educational opportunity. Often, the customer “doesn’t know what they don’t know.” For example, we will ask if heat treatment is required. The customer’s design team may not have considered this important and sometimes costly addition. This may cause the customer to review the application to see if that additional feature is necessary for the component to function properly.

In another instance, a customer may have identified a paint specification that indicated a coating that may be outdated due to environmental concerns.  Discovery of this issue in the initial process not only saves time but may also save money and other challenges in the future.

Application 2 – Systematic Problem Solving

In order to correct an issue, you first need to understand it. The LEAN methodology uses several tools (5 Whys, Root Cause Analysis, Fishbone Diagrams, A3, etc.) to help us identify the challenges involved in causing the problem. The nature of the specific challenge will indicate which tool is best suited to address that issue. However, in order to properly address the problem, the problem must first be properly identified. 

The systematic approach taken by Lawton is guided by these LEAN methodologies. This approach is designed to identify all issues which may cause the problem until the true cause (or causes) are determined. The tools aid in prioritizing the root cause and walk you through the systematic process to address the issues. Finally, the proper follow-ups are defined and implemented to ensure the actions truly provided final solutions to the problem and the improvements are sustained.

An important customer benefit to this process is the correction of the original issue/concern identified. However, a much more important benefit is in the way the methodology drives the solution to be leveraged in a proactive manner to gain synergies and improve other areas of our business.

Application 3 – LEAN Green Belt Leadership Training

The system is only as good as the people who operate it. That’s why Lawton continually invests in training for their employees. LEAN Green belt leadership training teaches employees techniques they can use to manage improvement projects in their areas. 

The LEAN Green Belt training provides the participant with a full background in the history of LEAN and the development of the theory. It focuses on the tools which are used throughout the process and provides a basic outline on how and when to use each one, including standard work and the importance of following it.

Fully understanding the process and its history is critical to the effective use of the theory. After each of our training sessions, the participants are divided up into cross-functional teams and are asked to identify an issue/concern. Many of them are quality, delivery and/or process-related which can benefit the customer. They then walk through the tools they were taught to identify the root cause and determine the LEAN path to get them to successful, sustainable solutions. 

LEAN Green Belt training at Lawton is not reserved for only supervisory or management positions. People throughout the organization attend the classes and the list of those employees recommended to participate continues to grow. Every class is asked to suggest to what extent this program should be expanded, and the overwhelming response is that everyone needs to participate for it to be successful.

As we continue along our LEAN journey, we will continue to report on our successes and how this impacts our processes. However, we do understand that participation by all is absolutely necessary for the transformation to be truly successful. This participation extends to our customers, vendors and even to the casual reader of this blog. We are always looking for input on what you see here or in any of our blogs. Please feel free to reply to us at with your comments or share your own LEAN experiences.