Crown International has successfully transitioned to a lean manufacturing approach over the past few years, and the company’s endeavor has not gone unnoticed. As a result of dramatically streamlining its manufacturing, further improving both efficiency and product quality, Crown recently had the distinction of being a tour site for the Association for Manufacturing Excellence(AME) 2007 International Conference in Chicago.

Founded in 1985, AME, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping companies with continuous improvement and their pursuit of excellence, annually holds an international conference, one of the highlights being the opportunity to tour a variety of leading manufacturing and service facilities. The most recent AME conference was held at the Chicago Hilton & Towers in November, and even though tour sites are very seldom located more than an hour’s drive from the conference, nearly three dozen attendees chose to travel twice that distance in a bus to Elkhart, Indiana, to see Crown.

According to the visitors, who came from respected companies as diverse as Boeing, Honeywell, Volvo, Hallmark, John Deere, Oral-B, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Labs, HON, Z Corp, and Raytheon, among others, there were five key manufacturing aspects that most impressed them. These included: computer displays of work instructions, preventative maintenance, and drawings on press brakes; training videos at workstations for all shifts; Crown’s training center; the overall cleanliness of the factory; and the employee culture of continuous improvement, organization, and minimal downtime. Two company leaders who took the tour have already asked to come back to learn more from Crown.

Following the factory tour, Q&A session and overview of Crown’s lean manufacturing evolution, which since 2001 has consolidated 11 batch-and-queue lines into two manufacturing cells and two assembly cells, as well as reduced lead time from five days down to only 12 hours, AME’s Jeff Albrecht presented Crown senior VP of operations Larry Coburn with a plaque “in recognition of [Crown’s] commitment on their journey to excellence.”

“It was quite an honor for Crown to be chosen as one of the AME tour sites this year,” notes Coburn. “Selected companies such as Toyota, Ford, and Boeing, which have all been toured in the past are the ‘Who’s Who’ in manufacturing. The way to tell that you’re doing well is recognition from outside experts, and we are very proud of that recognition. We will continue to sign up for productivity awards judged by the AME and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.”

AME tours are valuable in that they allow participants to benefit from the unique experiences of the host sites. By personally seeing how other manufacturers have successfully taken measures to become more efficient, improve quality, minimize employee turnover and so on, those concepts can then be taken away by visitors and implemented in their own operations. AME tours also facilitate cross-industry networking, further helping companies share knowledge and learn from each other. To illustrate the networking benefit, Coburn, who is on AME’s board of directors for the Great Lakes region, gave a presentation several years ago on using ‘kanban’ principles in manufacturing. As a result, executives from Honda later came to visit Crown and study that process.