Shingo Conference Is In GR


    GRAND RAPIDS — Dubbed the “Nobel Prize of Manufacturing,” the Shingo Prize is recognized around the globe as one of the leading manufacturing award programs in North America, and it’s bringing its focus on lean to Grand Rapids.

    This week, more than 600 people are expected to attend the 17th annual Shingo Prize Conference at DeVos Place.

    The prize and the conference focus on the lean manufacturing concepts developed by Shigeo Shingo, a Japanese industrial engineer who pioneered many critical aspects of Toyota’s system.

    Packed with seminars and discussion sessions, the weeklong event will bring to life lean concepts, which can be adapted to a variety of manufacturing business models, not simply those in the automotive industry.

    Ross Robson, executive director of the nonprofit organization Shingo Prize, calls lean manufacturing the hottest business methodology and paradigm available today.

    “My view of lean is that it is the best way to achieve operational excellence and financial profitability today,” said Robson. “It is grounded in the Toyota production system, and Toyota is truly recognized as the leader in worldwide manufacturing.”

    Toyota’s effective use of lean principals is evident in its profit margin, said Robson.

    “Toyota reported $10 million in profits last year in a market when all of the Big Three combined reported profits of only $1.3 million. It’s due to using lean thinking and management. They use it throughout their entire business system, not just out on the manufacturing floor.”

    The concepts of lean are not limited to the automotive industry, though, a fact Robson said is evident in the 2005 award recipients, which include companies producing micro gas generators for airbags and seat belts, aerospace and defense components, attack helicopters, all-weather precision strike munitions, medical devices, injection modeling and automotive signal systems, to name a few.

    “This array of recipients demonstrates the growth of lean worldwide,” said Robson.

    The 2005 award recipients include: Autoliv, BAE Systems, Boeing, Boston Scientific, Celestica de Monterrey, Delphi, GDX Automotive, Hearth & Home Technologies, Lockheed Martin and Takata Seat Belts.

    Brazeway Inc., which is headquartered in Adrian, is among a handful of Shingo Prize finalists that also will receive honors at the conference. With plants in Kentucky, Mexico and Indiana, Brazeway focuses on aluminum extrusion and evaporator assemblies used in commercial and residential refrigeration systems. David Skrzypchak, director of extrusion operations, noted that the company has been implementing the lean philosophy for the past five years and recently restructured to create a full-time director of lean operations.

    “Had we not implemented lean, I am not sure where we would be today,” said Skrzypchak. “In a world where our costs continue to go up, our customers want lower prices every year. The only way to survive is to look for ways in the organization to save.”

    The Shingo Prize application process, said Skrzypchak, involved Shingo representatives touring Brazeway’s plants, providing management with critical comments on the plant’s operations at every level.

    “And I think the value of that is even greater than getting the award of finalist,” said Skrzypchak.

    Focused on eliminating activities that negatively impact tax utilization and profitability, the lean model has taken off in recent years and can now be seen in use by the U.S. Department of Defense. Currently 12 states, including Michigan, are encouraging the lean process through their own state-level award programs.

    A primer on lean concepts, the conference, which is taking place in West Michigan for the first time, also will spotlight a handful of local businesses. Throughout the four-day conference, tours demonstrating various aspects of lean principles will take conference attendees to Autocam, Cascade Engineering, Delphi in Coopersville, Magna Donnelly, Steelcase and Tiara Yachts.

    The tour process is set up to provide conference attendees with a view of lean in action, and to give the staff at the plants critical feedback that can help improve their systems, said David Mann of Steelcase’s lean operations office.

    “The idea is that anytime you have anyone looking at your operations, they will see something that needs improvement.”

    Steelcase began implementing lean concepts in 1997, said Mann, and the process has been invaluable to the company’s operations and bottom line.

    “One of the key ideas in lean manufacturing is to produce at the rate of customer demand. You aren’t making a bunch of parts or components that someone might order. Instead you set up your system to respond quickly to what is ordered.”

    Having the expertise of the Shingo Prize Conference in West Michigan is recognition of the quality of the region’s manufacturing operations, Mann said.

    The Shingo Prize Conference will take place April 18-22 at DeVos Place. Interested attendees can register for daily workshops and plant tours online at or by calling (435) 797-2279.     

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