Eliminating waste. Maximizing efficiency.
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The LEAN Vision at Tri-City Groundbreakers
With a history of seeking out the latest technology and best-practice methods, it comes as no surprise that Tri-City Groundbreakers stands on the leading edge of an industry-wide revolution. Applying the principles of LEAN Construction has already reaped enormous returns. Advances in the bidding process now allow our estimators to focus on and win the projects that matter. “War room” meetings with the foreman provide a one week look-ahead at the men, women, materials, and machines needed. Value stream maps of the business unlock insights into potential improvements, and quality control checklists and inspections ensure that work gets done correctly the first time. As efficient methodology becomes fully engrained in the company culture, Tri-City Groundbreakers looks forward to reaping the benefits.
Shortly after WWII, top executives from the Toyota Motor Corporation toured the plants of carmakers in the United States in search of insight. With their domestic sales struggling and global markets out of reach, bankruptcy loomed around the corner.¹ Ironically, it took less than 50 years for the roles to reverse. As Toyota found enormous success,² top executives from the U.S. began searching for answers. How did a company that once teetered on the brink of bankruptcy begin mass exportation of cars to America? How did a carmaker rising from the ashes of the second world war manage to carve out an alarming share of the global markets?
It soon became very clear that the Toyota Production System, popularized in the U.S. as LEAN Manufacturing, had implications reaching far beyond the auto industry.³ Today, principles of visual quality control, 5S organization, attacking waste, and purposeful communication form the basis for LEAN Construction. Questions including “How can I streamline interactions with my suppliers?” and “How do I improve safety while eliminating delays?” allow contractors to continuously improve. Even academia has joined in as groups like the LEAN Construction Institute provide theory, practical tools, and case studies to interested business leaders.4
Applying assembly-line ideas to the uncertain jobsite presents many challenges. Some LEAN concepts, such as just-in-time delivery, may never be fully embraced by the construction industry. One concept, however, fits the construction industry like a tailor-made glove: 5S Organization.
5 Steps to 5S Organization
The first 5S step includes tagging every item in the job trailer, yard, or shop as “never use,” “rarely use,” “sometimes use,” or “always use.” After disposing of the “never use” items, one simplifies the shelving or floor space based on each item’s frequency of use. Each “always use” item must be easily accessible. Everything must also be clearly marked and have a defined home so that team members can easily find and account for any given item.
Next, regularly sweeping and cleaning the area based on an agreed-upon and posted standard improves safety, reveals defects, and is the first step towards preventative maintenance. Finally, progressed must be sustained. Continuing what one started requires self-discipline, but the returns justify the investment.
5S Organization saves hours of time by ensuring that every tool is available when needed. Expenses for lost tools decrease while clean working spaces reduce injuries and increase the life of tools and equipment. In short, 5S Organization is organization done right.4
1 “Toyota Motor Corporation,” Encyclopedia Britannica
² “Toyota Passes GM As Top Auto Seller,” Forbes.
³ Taninecz, George. “Lean Beyond Production,” Lean Enterprise Institute.
4 “Stop the Treasure Hunts–Applying the 5 S’s for Lean Construction”, Lean Construction Institute.
The History of LEAN
Founded on August 28, 1937 by Kiichiro Toyota, the Toyota Motor Corporation teetered on the brink of bankruptcy by the late 1940s.5 The global markets, especially the United States, were dominated by the Big Three, and Toyota simply could not compete with the overwhelming capacity of established carmakers.6 To make matters worse, the war-ravaged domestic market in Japan could do little to support the auto industry.5 Things looked hopeless; but it is in the face of extreme adversity that innovation thrives.
As Toyota struggled through a labor strike and the forced resignation of their president,5 great minds were hard at work. Taiichi Ohno, a Japanese industrial engineer and businessman, revisited the foundational equation in business: Sales – Expenses = Profit. Traditional wisdom suggested scaling up production to increase sales and therefore profit. Toyota, however, did not possess the capacity nor market share to support such a move. Thankfully, the equation offered a second option. Any company could increase profits in its current capacity and market share by cutting expenses. With this fundamental shift in focus, the Toyota Production System came to life.7
Based on his theory of the seven wastes, Ohno began eliminating any expenses or activities that did not add value for which the customer was willing to pay. His kanban system and other visual communication methods allowed Toyota to eliminate large pools of inventory, reduce lead time, and drastically increase cash flow.7 In his own words,
“All we are doing is looking at the time line, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the time line by reducing the non-value adding wastes.”
Besides stressing an almost obsessive approach to waste-reduction, Taiichi Ohno also built a culture of continuous improvement and communication. Visual quality controls made problems immediately obvious while daily meetings and inspections fostered productive communication between the laborers, supervisors, and upper management. Workers encouraged to seek creative solutions began using every quality defect as an opportunity to find the root cause and improve the process.7
Taiichi Ohno’s Seven Mudas (Wastes)
Before long, the Toyota Production System proved its worth. Through skillful management, planning, and the implementation of LEAN concepts, Toyota survived the economic downturn.5 Even after the Japanese economy recovered, Toyota never dropped its waste-cutting focus. Efficiency and reliability stood as hallmarks of the company as it grew rapidly into the 21st century.6
Today, Toyota has surpassed the Big Three to become one of the largest automakers in the world.8 Its global reach and startling results speak for themselves, and business leaders around the globe have started listening. Universal principles like the elimination of waste, continuous improvement, 5S organization, visual quality controls, and open communication apply to every industry.³ From manufacturing and maintenance to sales and construction, there is no doubt– the future is LEAN.
Progress cannot be generated when we are satisfied with existing situations.
5 “A 75-year History Through Text,” Toyota-global.com.
6 “The Automotive Industry,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
7 Ohno, Taiichi. “Workplace Management.”
8 “Toyota officially passes GM as planet’s biggest car maker,” History.com
Tri-City Groundbreakers has chosen to partner with one of the premier LEAN consulting partners in North America. With experience ranging from GM and Nexteer to Thrustmaster, Arconic, and Ferris University, DLW Partners boasts a highly qualified executive team. At Groundbreakers, we have already begun reaping the astounding benefits of their world-class consulting. We look forward continuing our partnership and are excited about the vast opportunities ahead!
Interested in how we got to this point? From a unspoken dream to a company-wide reality– here is our story.
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