The North American operating division of Schneider Electric (Palatine, IL) has used lean manufacturing principles to significantly reduce its manufacturing costs in North America. Since 2001, the company has saved more than $237 million. Learn how Schneider did it at ASSEMBLY magazine's Lean Barrier Busting session at September's Assembly Technology Expo.

Schneider Electric is a leading manufacturer of equipment used for electrical distribution and industrial automation and control. Its product line includes circuit breakers, relays, safety switches, sensors, terminal blocks and transformers. Schneider Electric is based in France, but has nearly two dozen assembly plants in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Joe Blanck, vice president of operations, strategy and manufacturing excellence at Schneider Electric will be participating in the Lean Barrier Busting session at this year's Assembly Technology Expo. The 3-hour session on Tuesday, Sept. 26, is organized by ASSEMBLY magazine and will feature insights on several lean manufacturing success stories.

Blanck defines lean as "an initiative aimed at eliminating all waste in the manufacturing process. Its goal is to use less human effort, less inventory and less time to make products in less space." The goal of the company's lean initiative is to be highly responsive to customer demands, while producing top-quality products in the most efficient and economical manner possible.

Schneider Electric focuses on three main customer-driven initiatives: cycle times, on-time deliveries and product quality. According to Blanck, cycle time refers to the time it takes a product to be ordered by a customer, assembled with the supplies used by the manufacturer, and then the time it takes to ship the finished product to the customer. "When the cycle is shortened, customers find the experience increases their trust in the manufacturer," says Blanck.

Several years ago, Schneider Electric launched a new logistics strategy aimed at shortening cycle times. "This action reduced the time and transportation costs to reach our customers," says Blanck.

On-time deliveries work to guarantee a customer's deadline for delivery each and every time. "When deliveries occur on time, customers are satisfied and trust they will have the same experience on their next order," explains Blanck. "When on-time deliveries are not met, costs are incurred throughout the entire supply chain."

Time is spent calling people on the telephone, sending and receiving e-mail messages, checking records, and checking loading docks and stocking locations. "The bottom line is that none of the activity is adding value," Blanck points out.

Product quality at Schneider Electric comes from customers demanding the highest quality product available. "The better the quality of the product manufactured, the less cost is incurred to everyone," claims Blanck. "Product quality is not just about meeting product specifications. It goes beyond that to anticipating and meeting customers' needs."

Another way to reduce manufacturing costs is by addressing plant safety issues and concerns. Last year, Schneider Electric reduced its medical incident rate by 33 percent across all of its North American facilities, which encompass more than 17,000 employees.

Blanck will be one of several participants in the Lean Barrier Busting session at the 2006 Assembly Technology Expo. The 3-hour session on Tuesday, Sept. 26, also features Tim Corcoran, vice president of ZF North America (Vernon Hills, IL); Jim Kass, director of operations at Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corp. (Port Washington, WI); and Jamie Flinchbaugh, partner in the Lean Learning Center (Novi, MI) and author of ASSEMBLY magazine's monthly "Leading Lean" column. The event will also feature a panel discussion and Q&A session.

The Assembly Technology Expo is the world's largest trade show for assembly tools and technology. It is attended by more than 12,000 manufacturing engineers, design engineers and plant managers from a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, appliance, automotive, consumer goods, electronics, industrial machinery, medical devices and telecommunications. ASSEMBLY is the official sponsor of the annual event. To register for the Lean Barrier Busting session or find out more information about the Assembly Technology Expo, click HERE.