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‘Lean’ as a strategic weapon

Lean manufacturing means much, much more than cutting costs, Lavon Winkler says. For Kansas City?s Milbank Manufacturing, the company?s President and CEO says, nearly a decade of aggressive waste reduction and process improvements have become the driving force for strategic advantage.

When Milbank asked its sales force what produced its strategic advantage in the market for electric meter boxes and similar products, long-time reps serving the construction market pointed to its status as a family-owned business, decades in the industry, low prices and ?Made in USA? products, Winkler told FEI Kansas City members and guests on April 13. When the company asked its customers, though, the answers focused on objective factors like on-time shipments and delivery, in-stock ratios, reliability of quality, and other operational measures.

Since implementing lean manufacturing in 2006, Winkler says, Milbank has improved on-time orders from 55% to 90%, reduced lead times for manufacturing jobs from 85 days to 19 days, and enhanced quality and safety. Driving costs out of the business also contributes to competitive prices, he says. The company also has made those benefits the core of its sales pitch and quest for growth.

?We needed to start telling the right story, to take the benefits of ?lean? and make that our marketing story to customers,? Winkler says. ?We?ve used this to secure many, many large accounts. We continue to expand and win new customers. It?s all because of our ability to perform in our operations.?

The result? Sales and profits are dramatically improved over the past decade, despite a 60% decline in the residential housing market since its peak in 2005. ?Our efforts with lean have enabled us to free up unbelievable amounts of cash, primarily that was tied up in inventory,? Winkler adds.

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