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A Manufacturer Goes Lean and Wins Big

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Consumer goods manufacturer Church & Dwight found that it needed to boost performance to meet customer demand. To meet this goal, it embarked on an ambitious Lean initiative at all of its 13 production facilities.

“We look at all challenges through the lens of Lean manufacturing—it’s the only way that we can operate,” said Bruno Silva, vice president of manufacturing operations.

What’s Lean? Researchers James Womack and Daniel Jones first defined the concept of Lean manufacturing as “a way to do more with less … while coming closer to providing customers exactly what they want.” Many manufacturers see mastering Lean as an essential springboard to operational initiatives like digital manufacturing and other advanced production practices.

Setting the stage: In developing its Lean program, Church & Dwight first held a weeklong leadership summit to decide on standards and expectations. The company’s leaders came up with a Lean assessment system with 16 standards and a definition for achievement at the gold, silver and bronze levels. But the essential part was ensuring frontline employees were driving improvement from the bottom up—not the other way around.

  • “This is not corporate pushing it down,” said Felipe Vilhena, director of Lean manufacturing – global operations. “We help workers overcome challenges and give them the right tools to do that. We created a mindset and expectation that improvements are part of the work.”

Putting it into practice: Initially, each worker was asked to list five potential improvements at his or her site, and then go out and make them. The company provided training and support to help with these fixes, while managers kept employees fully informed of their progress according to key indicators.

  • Workers formed self-directed teams and continued to seek out improvements, which they began making more and more frequently. Thanks to the trust and autonomy that employees were given, engagement and retention measurably increased at the same time.

Receiving recognition: The company’s achievements have received recognition from its peers in the industry. One of its top-performing facilities in Green River, Wyoming, earned the company a 2021 Manufacturing Leadership Award in the Operational Excellence category from the NAM’s Manufacturing Leadership Council.

The last word: “It was important to create the right expectation and mindset,” Vilhena said. “From big to small improvements, we are seeing them happen every day.”

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