Lean Manufacturing – Principles At Work In The Real World “The L.E. Smith Company Kaizen Journey”

The L.E. Smith Company has long been a believer in the fundamental principles of lean manufacturing, however in mid 2009,  we furthered our commitment by embarking on a journey to improve each and every functional area of our business through the ongoing practice of KAIZEN.  To say that this is a one time event or an activity with a start and end date is to misunderstand the true power of the process.  Kaizen is a commitment made every day to engage all of the collective knowledge in our company, openly challenge & improve current practices,  & adopt audit processes to ensure that changes become part of the new culture.  These 3 core principles forming one leg of the stool with no individual principle more important than the other.

This newsletter will chronicle each Kaizen event which has taken place.  We will discuss the fundamental aspects of a Kaizen transformation & detail our experience throughout the first year of our journey.  We’ll include the good and the bad in hopes that it might give insight to anyone interested in Lean Manufacturing principles and most importantly, how it applies to the real world.

The word “KAIZEN” is Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the better”. It  refers to a philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, supporting business processes, and management. When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions, and involves all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers.1

In order to communicate activities clearly,  let’s define some of the terms/phrases/acronyms which we use regularly throughout the process;

Visual management – Defined as “simple visual signals that provide an immediate understanding of a situation or condition.  These signals need to be efficient, self regulating, & worker managed.” Additionally,  visual management must accomplish 2 key goals:

1.      Clearly define the normal or desired condition

2.      Expose the abnormal undesired condition

C.O.M.M.W.I.P.   – This is an acronym detailed below, which outlines the general categories of waste or “non value-add” activity/process in any phase of business.  This becomes the tool through which a purely “value-add” process is created and all waste is subsequently eliminated.

Correction Overproduction Movement of material Motion Waiting Inventory Process


5S Process

5S is the workplace organization methodology which describes how items are stored and how the new order is maintained.  The final two steps are accomplished through collaboration of many associates in attempt to create sustained consistency in ongoing functional business processes.

Sort    Straighten    Shine    Standardize    Sustain


The kaizen process for us has been far more successful than we imagined from the outset.  Not only have we realized productivity gains, we have witnessed our associates embrace the opportunity and become a much closer group.  We have built trust, respect, and friendships around the company that could never be monetized.  We used an outside consultant for our first four kaizens and now are leading the events internally.  Our focus was to start at the beginning of our manufacturing process and tackle one area at a time.  I hope our experience will be of value to you and your company.  If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to invest the time and energy into transforming your company by adopting the house of lean!

If you have any questions or are interested in discussing this further,  please feel free to contact us at https://www.lesmith.com/contact-us.

Enjoy the Journey!