Nov 23, 2007

Consumers and retailers drive sustainability in Asia

MAS Intimates Thurulie (MAS) in Sri Lanka will be making bras for Marks & Spencer (M&S), a favorite UK department store, in a green facility. Retailers like Walmart and M&S are driving change in Asia, where environmental and safety responsibility are often lacking. Part of the change is the result of shoppers' growing concerns about how the products they buy affect the global environment. Consumers want guilt-free buying.

M&S will advise MAS on sustainable construction. M&S already claims to have “green” stores in the UK, so it is passing its knowledge and experience into its supply chain. M&S will start by paying for architectural design of the Sri Lankan facility. All this is part of the M&S Plan A.

Mr. Paschal Little, Head of Technology, Lingerie, Marks & Spencer, said at the factory groundbreaking ceremony, “Just as we are aiming to reduce the carbon footprint and waste from our operations in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, we are also keen to work with our suppliers to reduce our impact in the countries in which we source our goods.”

MAS brings to the table its MAS Operating System (MOS), based on the Toyota Production System, with which they have been applying lean in the apparel industry.

The 10,000 square foot factory is meant to be a zero-emission facility. It’s expected to save 50% on water and 40% on electricity compared to a non-green factory by relying on solar-electric, solar-thermal, wind, and sewage treatment-produced methane. LED lighting and rooftop rainwater collection will also cut down on power and water consumption. Building materials will include Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood and cement-stabilized-earth bricks. The project will be independently certified by the US Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

The bra factory will be just one of the occupants of the evolving MAS Holdings fabric park, which is being built, according to MAS, “with respect for the site, the user and the environment, and drawing inspiration from traditional Sri Lankan architecture, building on stilts, with inner courtyards and extensive greenery around the structures giving thermal comfort, minimizing disturbance of land contours and drainage patterns.”

The green belts are also meant to get employees to use bicycles. Dormitories and “villas,” along with healthcare and sports facilities will be included in the development.

The MAS Institute of Management Technology (MIMT) will be on the site for training and IT development, rounding out the picture of manufacturing, employee services, and education.

MAS Holdings, founded in 1987, also supplies Victoria’s Secret (becoming VS’s supplier of the year in 2006), GAP, Nike, and Speedo with 28 facilities, two design studios and a sourcing and innovation arm across seven countries. It employs more than 40,000 people. MAS has also supported women’s empowerment through the Women Go Beyond program, the GAP Go Beyond Program.

Everyone knows that Wal-Mart wields considerable power over its worldwide suppliers, and it’s pushing sustainability on several fronts. It has entered a partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) to measure the amount of energy used to create products throughout its supply chain, including the procurement, manufacturing and distribution process. Using this measurement tool, says a Wal-Mart press release, the company will begin to work with suppliers to look for ways to make the entire process more energy efficient.

I’d be willing to bet this is the future of global development, with the values of European and North American shoppers making clean and humane manufacturing more or less mandatory. Yes, right now the constant low price focus of buyers is resulting in almost unimaginable damage, but global scrutiny is having an effect. Will the change come in time to keep humankind from trashing the planet? Who knows?

More about MAS
More about sustainability at Wal-Mart

Nov 17, 2007

Delivering what the customer wants, at the right time, for the right price

Kevin Meyer reflected on his experience at the Chicago Hilton at the recent AME conference there. He said:

Being a customer of the hotel, one gets the chance to see the rubber-hitting-the-road outcomes (if you look) such as how all services are provided. While they were impeccably delivered everywhere, what I found most impressive was cheerful, honestly helpful, self-confident people who made direct eye contact with you as they expressed a cheerful Good Morning or other acknowledgement. And they did it 24 hours a day – and it came from people at all stations in this complex. All you had to do is appear as though you were unsure and they were upon you to provide help.

My comment turned out to be pretty long, so I decided to appropriate it for "Lean Reflections."

During the AME conference in Chicago, my husband and I stayed at the Best Western, three blocks south on Michigan Ave. At $140 per night, we had similar customer service. When I realized the week before that my reservation was a day short, I called the hotel and Carissa was able to retrieve the reservation I had made online. Naturally that meant that she couldn't change it, but she went ahead and added a reservation, guaranteed I wouldn't have to change rooms, and honored the original price I'd gotten even though she was adding a Friday night.

Kevin found this guide for Hilton's staff. I think the Best Western folks lived up to it too:

When I arrived, Carissa was at the desk and remembered talking to me on the phone. There was no fancy entrance or doorman, but it was easy to grab a bellcart and take it the short distance to our car and bring it in. We were offered assistance, but like doing things ourselves. Carissa explained the parking situation (expensive, but normal in Chicago at $25 per day - how much was the Hilton?) and was perfectly happy that we had left the car with lights flashing on 11th St. where the entrance to the hotel was located. We could get the car whenever we needed it by calling the desk.

Actually when I arrived, I had to wait a few minutes to check in, bacause Carissa was giving careful instructions about taking the bus to two other guests who wanted to get to North Mich Ave.

The carpet wasn't as nice, but the room was pretty good for the price. I've paid more in Chicago for less. The towels weren't as fluffy, but we had plenty of them. The linens were higher quality than in most places.

When I had trouble accessing the wireless network, the guy at the desk talked me through a couple of troubleshooting attempts. When they didn't work, he had someone at our door with a cable almost immediately. Of course, by then I'd tried the microsoft fix of turning everything off and rebooting. The hotel's wireless service was fine. And free.

After a night with a spouse who likes to sleep in a chilly room, I asked for a second blanket around 11pm the next night. I had it at my door in less than 10 minutes.

Kevin also complimented the Hilton for its..

...cheerful, honestly helpful, self-confident people who made direct eye contact with you as they expressed a cheerful Good Morning or other acknowledgement. And they did it 24 hours a day – and it came from people at all stations in this complex. All you had to do is appear as though you were unsure and they were upon you to provide help.

When I called the Best Western desk each time, the phone was answered promptly and courteously. Whenever we came in or went out, we were treated like honored guests. Everyone was friendly and smiling. The day we left, one of the staff at the desk was calling other hotels to find a room for a woman who had arrived without a reservation. It was Saturday and the hotel was all booked up.

This in contrast to the day before when I was in the Hilton lobby talking to another conference attendee and a hotel employee literally pushed me out of the way to allow a group of obvously more important people to pass through to the elevator.

Did you get lost? The hotel was very confusing and the signage not much better. One sign read "Alternative Women's Restroom." I'm afraid to ask about the alternative women. (The sign was there because there were many more men's rooms than women's rooms. Huh?) Another read "Door is Alarmed." Maybe by the behaviour of the alternative women? Or the men looking for alternative women?

Actually, the people at the Hilton serving meals and in the 8th street lobby were all attentive and courteous. The carpets were amazing, and having a pianist at the grand piano in one of the lobbies was a touch of elegance.

This post isn't about whether I was smarter than the folks who stayed at the Hilton. It's all about value in the eyes of the customer. I wasn't looking for luxury, and I got better service than I expected for my $140. If I'd wanted more cushy surroundings and wasn't paying my own expenses, the Hilton at $250 or thereabouts would have made sense.

As for Hiltons in different cities, maybe it's Chicago that is the factor. It's a great city. Except for Nieman Marcus, but that's a different story.

Nov 15, 2007

Is this the voice of a new customer for you?

Lean manufacturers should be generating available capacity and resources as they slim down their production systems. Then what do you do? You need to add customers or products or both.

Here's an idea...There's a company looking for new PVCu/composite home building materials, improved manufacturing techniques, environmental technologies (e.g. integrated solar panels) or technologies to improve energy efficiency, U-value, product performance/lifetime, visual aesthetics and/or ease of installation. The company provides a range of channels to the home building market, so you don't have to deal with that part of the supply system.

Specifically, the company is looking for doors, windows, conservatories and roofing systems, garages, porches, canopies, awnings, carports etc. They also want roof line products, e.g. fascia, soffit, guttering/rainwater systems, cladding, panelling etc.

Maybe you have technologies that could be used for ventilation/heating/cooling systems, hardware & accessories. If you do, contact: Introduction Manager, +1-781-972-0600 or email

If you don't have anything for this market, subscribe to's newsletter. There's a wealth of tips for markets that are just opening up -- maybe there's one for you. The company's web address, not surprisingly is

Nov 14, 2007

Lean manufacturing moves to the cornfields of Illinois

One thing we noticed while driving along the highways of Kansas and Illinois is that there are a lot of new ethanol plants and grain elevators rising among the cornfields. Corn producers are looking at the alternative energy future as an opportunity to get more money selling their crops than they paid to put them in the ground. That prospect is stimulating capital investment on the ground.

Ed Zdrojewski, Grain Journal editor, reported October 30, 2007, that one grain storage manufacturer is gearing up to bring lean manufacturing methods to respond to the rapidly growing market. Scott Clawson joined GSI Group, Assumption, IL, as president and CEO in August. Since then the company has hired a flock of new managers made a number of promotions from within. Many are engineers.

Clawson cut his lean manufacturing teeth at Danaher Corp., an early adopter of the Toyota Production System. Before joining GSI, he was CEO of Iowa-based RYKO Enterprises, a vehicle wash system manufacturer, that was transformed, according to Zdrojewski, “into a growth-oriented, market-focused organization by strengthening its distribution, sales, and marketing team and by implementing lean manufacturing practices.”

There are a number of forces at work making the grain storage and handling business poised for growth, Clawson told a meeting of the AgCafe in Decatur, IL:

* A record production of more than 13 billion bushels of corn is forecasted for the United States in 2007. Growth in corn production increases demand for GSI's grain storage and handling systems.

* As farms consolidate, more are investing in on-farm storage, and buying new equipment.

* Genetically modified crops, while controversial, are nonetheless being grown and produce higher yields. Because they require separation at commercial grain elevators, there’s a need for more storage bins.

* Ethanol production currently consumes about 25% of the U.S. corn crop, and GSI produces equipment for that fast-growing industry.

The company’s annual sales have increased from $272 million to $485 million over the last five years. GSI employs about 3,000 people worldwide and 2,000 in the United States,

While Clawson wants to boost international sales, particularly to Asia and Eastern Europe, and currently ships equipment to Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia, he says there are no plans to relocate any manufacturing operations overseas. He said GSI’s product is primarily sold in the Midwest and manufacturing will stay in the Midwest.

GSI is rapidly introducing lean into its operations. Training is underway, in the form of monthly workshops involving eight to 15 employees focusing on specific projects. More than 925 employees, 46% of GSI's U.S. workforce, have participated in workshops so far. Clawson said each workshop has improved productivity in its focus area by about 25%. Rising steel prices are putting pressure on the costs of building GSI’s products, so cutting production costs is doubly important.

Read the complete story:

Nov 8, 2007

Traveler's aid

As I've said before, Mike and I recently took a cross-country trip, and I found this example of simple employee improvements at a rest area. Someone had looked at the phone booths as work stations and assembled the most-needed tools there.

Emergency and commonly needed phone numbers were taped up on the left. I should have photographed a different booth, but thought I wouldn't expose some sustainment failures. There was a pocket made from ordinary manila file folders, labeled "pens" at other booths, but either the pens or the notepaper were missing. The next pocket, obviously, is for the note paper. Then there was a map of area codes, and a little set of instructions that I didn't remember to copy down.

Most of us have stood at a phone booth or with a cellphone away from home and needed to call for some sort of help. If there's a phone book, you had to fumble through it. More likely, there's no phone book. So this improvement eliminates an important barrier. Even if you call someone you know, you're likely to need make notes and realize you don't have a pen or paper. The thoughtful employee removes another source of inconvenience and anxiety. You have a phone number, but don't know the area code, or the area code has changed. So you have a handy map right there.

An alert person had been at the gemba and observed the customer -- the "worker" trying to use the phone booth to accomplish a task. Maybe people had repeatedly approached the desk (it was staffed) asking for pens or paper, etc. Maybe the person thought about what people encountered at times when there was no staff at the site.

Simple materials, simple construction processes, and problems eliminated. The next step would be some standard work for keeping the tools on the toolboard, but the abnormal condition is easy to spot. Even the missing pen pocket was obvious because there was a line of four or five phone booths along the wall, tools placed in exactly the same positions in each.

Where do you see little inconveniences in your workplace? How could you just take materials at hand and make an improvement? How could you bring a few other people together to discuss the idea so it would be even better and an appropriate person could add sustaining it to his or her standard work? Improvements don't have to be big or save hundreds of dollars to be valuable.

Nov 4, 2007

Start your week with joy

Conference-going for many people has a pattern: Anticipation, your first impression, inspiration, immersion, euphoria, exhaustion, and evaporation. Admit it - if you attended the recent Association for Manufacturing Excellence conference last week in Chicago, or any other really good conference, your head is bubbling with so many ideas and intentions that you can't keep track, you take lots of notes, hand out lots of business cards and you intend to spend Sunday putting it all in order and making a plan. Then on Monday you will go to work and make a difference. But eventually the euphoria dissipates and you're dragged back into budgets, politics or bad news.

But maybe you are better at handling your conference experience than I am. First, instead of spending Sunday composing follow-ups to all my new friends and thinking about what I will do with my new ideas, I slept 14 hours and woke up at 4:30 in the afternoon. Then I read a magazine and ate some breakfast. Took a shower and washed my hair. In short, completely wasted the day. But the thought of my little blog wasting away without me to feed it made me drag out my laptop. If you can't do the perfect thing, do something leading in the right direction, I thought. There is one thing that remains with me from the conference -- and it's something musical.

On Tuesday, the keynote speaker was Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Doc Hall, Lea Tonkin, Pat Panchak and I missed most of the session as we talked about what Target magazine might bring you in the coming year. Drifting in to the Hilton's huge breakfast room for the last 15 or 20 minutes of his speech, I learned that Zander had promised the audience that they would be singing Beethoven's 9th "Ode to Joy" symphony, in German, by the end of the hour.

Well, it was more than a speech - he strode all over the stage, drew on flip charts, told story after story, confessed his years of practicing his craft in an unenlightened way, and transmitted a zest for life and energy for making one's daily life mean something. He told how he was asked to speak and refused several times because of a schedule that required him to conduct performances both Monday and Tuesday night. He finally agreed because of AME's ability to bring together a thousand people devoted to doing things better.

And yes, we did sing a few lines of the music, in German, after a few tries of not fulfilling all our possibilities, with a real joy. Fascinating!

On Thursday, Matthew Lovejoy told how his company went from complacently thriving to being on the rocks in a few short months in 2001. After turning a deaf ear to lean manufacturing for a number of years, Lovejoy decided that if he had to bet the company on something, he'd bet it on lean. His story was believable and instructive. At the end, a mirrored disco ball descended from the ceiling and began to revolve. The Bee Gees started singing "Staying Alive." I was disappointed that Lovejoy didn't show us any dance moves or perform the song karaoke-style, but he made his point. He also apologized for leaving us with one of those songs that you can't get out of your head.

On Friday, as I walked the three blocks to the Chicago Hilton, I realized that I was humming the Ode to Joy. Relieved that I wasn't hearing "Staying Alive," I realized that joy was a signature of this gathering of people from all over the world who want to kaizen - to make change for the better.

I hope that your Monday starts with the sound of Beethoven -- try Googling something if it's not in your i-pod -- and that you're holding on to the joy of learning and improving for as many hours or days as you can.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm