Signs of lean are everywhere at ConceptWorks, which designs, engineers, and crafts prototypes or low production run industrial products, commercial displays and trade show exhibits. 

Kanban tags hang from small stacks of sheet goods. Whiteboards indicate the next jobs for the saw operator. A large sign of jobs currently in the shop resembles an airport flight status board.

Adam Schneider had a background in lean manufacturing from his experiences in metal manufacturing and in his and Jason Gudex’s education at MSOE.

He said lean processes are “common sense to business.” ConceptWorks keeps small inventories, while being responsive to customers

“I probably have a little OCD in me,” he said. “It’s got to be neat, it’s got to be clean and orderly. My background in school was mechanical engineering. Like in engineering, it’s the little details and logistical awareness that made a project successful.”

Vendor-managed inventory (VMI) is also used at the company. “Fastenal comes in and analyzes stocking levels, and fills up supplies if they hit certain thresholds,” Schneider said. “We don’t have to tell them. They like it because they have a strong hold on our business. We love it because we never have stock-outs.”

Fastenal started by coming three to four times a week, now it’s down to once or twice a week. “If we see a spike in orders, we’ll communicate that. It won’t be a surprise for them. It’s become a very synergistic relationship.

“We don’t need to have an employee here manage hardware. It’s not value-added behavior. Instead, we can put them on something that the customer values and appreciates, and is willing to pay for.”

People here are into the lean way of thinking.

“It’s really part of our culture. To be not lean is kind of going against the grain here. It takes care of itself. Let’s use the right tool for the right application. Let’s touch it once, let’s be as efficient and productive as possible.”

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