Lean road to better cars, better health care

Remember a couple of decades when 75,000 miles on a car was time to trade it in. Now, it’s not unusual for an owner to drive a car for 200,000 miles.

Cars just keep getting better and better. That positive and upward trend was confirmed by the recent dependability analysis on vehicles conducted by J.D. Power and Associates.

Its survey in 2013 for 2010 cars showed that the number of problems per hundred vehicles dropped to 126 from 132 the previous year. That’s a record low.

Another record was the holding period for new cars, now at six years.

The Japanese carmakers still led the pack with 10 fewer problems per hundred, but the other automakers have closed the gap by three points.

The reduction in defects was not routine progress. It didn’t just happen. It is a result, in large part, of the introduction of lean disciplines into manufacturing that was started by Toyota some three decades ago.

Despite a negative blip a few years ago, Toyota has ridden those disciplines to the number one position in the global car world.

American manufacturers picked up on that philosophy in the 1990s and began to make better cars.

The heart of the lean philosophy is the never ending quest for continual improvement and a complete respect for the people in the company who produce that continual improvement.

Teams of co-workers find the root causes of wastes and defects in company operations and figure out permanent fixes. Those then are baked into standard practices.

It sounds basic, and it is, but lean thinking is also very profound. It transforms organizations for the good.

The methods can also work in other parts of the organized world. Led by Theda Care in Appleton and Gunderson Health in La Crosse, they are now being deployed aggressively in the health care industry.

The results are proving just as transformational in that sector as in manufacturing. Defects and waste are being driven out, quality is improving and costs and prices are going the right way. For example, Appleton Memorial, the flagship hospital for Theda Care, has virtually eliminated infections in its operating rooms. That’s astounding progress.

Theda Care has a cadre of fast followers who are leading a national movement into the lean world. That offers great promise for getting the relentless inflation in health care under some control.
The “Be Bold 2010 strategic plan for the Wisconsin economy recommended that lean principles be applied to state government (they can be applied to any process.) And there is some indication that cabinet secretaries in the Walker Administration are moving that way in state agencies. If they do, the savings will be enormous.

Wisconsin manufacturers have used lean methods to fend off competition from low cost countries. Ariens Manufacturing in Brillion, for instance, believes it can match the low cost of any part made in the Asia by repeated lean exercises on the parts made here.

That, coupled with higher Chinese transportation costs from Asia, has meant the return of some parts manufactured in North America.

Many positive outcomes have come from the lean movement. Enjoy your long-lasting car.

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