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Help for Small Manufacturers in Making Plants

Smaller manufacturers now will have access to "lean manufacturing" training previously available only to large companies, thanks to a recently formed partnership between centers in the Manufacturing Extension Partnership's (MEP) nationwide network and Productivity Inc. A program of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), MEP centers provide business and technical assistance to smaller manufacturers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Originating in Japan in the 1970s, lean manufacturing is a concept that eliminates manufacturing activities or actions that add no real value to the product or service. Under an agreement signed recently by the Modernization Forum and Productivity Inc., field manufacturing specialists at NIST MEP centers around the country will receive training in Productivity's "5-S Visual Systems," a lean manufacturing course previously available only to large manufacturers. NIST MEP field manufacturing specialists who receive training will be licensed by Productivity Inc. to use specially customized materials in delivering the training to their clients.

"This is an important agreement," said Paul Clay, the Modernization Forum's Board chairman. "It gives us a product we can use right away to improve the competitiveness of U.S. small manufacturers and represents a first step in what we expect will be a strong, strategic relationship with Productivity Inc." Clay also is chief executive officer of the Mid-America Manufacturing Technology Center, the NIST MEP affiliate providing services to smaller manufacturers in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Wyoming.

Productivity's "5-S Visual Systems" course teaches plant managers how to apply a lean manufacturing tool called the five "pillars" of workplace organization and standardization: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain. The course shows how to map a current situation, create an optimal condition and keep it that way through visual controls. The training also teaches workers how to organize their workplace for increased efficiency, safety and cleanliness, and helps to make manufacturing jobs more satisfying and productive. These techniques have become standard practices in large manufacturing plants but are used by very few smaller manufacturers.

"We are grateful to the Modernization Forum and to Productivity Inc. for this agreement that will allow us to add this valuable product to our 'Lean Enterprise' toolkit," said Kevin Carr, director of the NIST MEP. "Firms that implement lean practices can realize significant improvements in productivity, quality and speed-to-market, while reducing scrap, re-work and costs," said Carr.

Other courses in the NIST MEP lean enterprise suite include "Principles of Lean Manufacturing," "Value Stream Mapping," "Setup Reduction," "Cellular/Flow Manufacturing," and "Total Productive Maintenance." A "Demand-Pull Manufacturing" course also is under development.

For assistance with lean enterprise techniques, as well as other business and technical projects, small manufacturers can call 1-800-MEP-4MFG (637-4634) to reach the MEP center serving their region. MEP's web site also has information on improving manufacturing competitiveness.

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST strengthens the U.S. economy and improves the quality of life by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards through four partnerships: the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Measurement and Standards Laboratories, the Advanced Technology Program and the Baldrige National Quality Program,

The Modernization Forum is the association for America's manufacturing extension community. Forum members work to improve the productivity and performance of America's smaller manufacturers.

Productivity Inc. is the leading American consulting, training and publishing company focusing on delivering improvement technology to the global manufacturing industry. As the market leader in providing tools for implementing total productive maintenance, lean management and lean production, Productivity has developed a comprehensive system for understanding value-adding management.

Additional Contacts: Modernization Forum, Carol A. Lessure, Research Director, (734) 779-2370, ext. 27; Productivity Inc.,Thomas M. Murphy, Director of Marketing, (503) 235-0600

Released March 23, 2000, Updated January 25, 2023