George W. Bush probably won't be making an appearance at this year's Assembly Technology Expo (ATExpo, Rosemont, IL). But, by attending the event, you can find out something that he already knows: Lean manufacturing really works.

When the president recently visited the Allen-Edmonds shoe factory in Port Washington, WI, he lauded the small company for its ability to compete successfully in today's global economy. At a time when 98 percent of all American footwear is imported, Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corp. churns out its world-class products at a factory in Port Washington, WI, 20 miles north of Milwaukee.

During his visit, President Bush got a first-hand look at how lean manufacturing has enabled Allen-Edmonds to continue handcrafting premium men's footwear in the United States. In 2003, the company invested $1.5 million to convert to a lean manufacturing system, purchase new equipment, change the factory layout, implement rigorous quality processes and develop comprehensive training programs. As a result, productivity increased 30 percent, damage rates declined 25 percent and inventory was reduced by nearly 60 percent.

Jim Kass, director of operations and the architect behind Allen-Edmonds' lean system, will be participating in the Lean Barrier Busting session at this year's ATExpo. The 3-hour session on Tuesday, Sept. 26, is organized by ASSEMBLY magazine and will feature insights on several lean manufacturing success stories.

Kass integrated lean concepts such as just-in-time production, cellular manufacturing and the Toyota Production System into his company. During the conversion process, plant floor space was consolidated and the supply chain was overhauled. Allen-Edmonds' production paradigm shifted from a traditional make-to-stock philosophy to a make-to order system, which reduced the cost of managing a massive inventory of finished goods.

Each pair of shoes is handcrafted in a process that includes more than 200 production steps. During the lean conversion process, Kass and his colleagues ensured that the company's 80-plus years of proprietary shoemaking tradition would remain intact.

Allen-Edmonds invested heavily in training and change-management programs. Other expenditures included installing a new lighting system and machinery. Some existing production equipment was enhanced and modified by in-house engineers.

Key performance data were collected to track the new lean system's effectiveness. "We made it a top priority to collect the right data," says Kass. "The numbers culminate in a 15 percent decrease in direct labor and overhead costs." Allen-Edmonds had its best year ever in 2005. The privately held company attributes this success to lean manufacturing.

"Quality is the cornerstone of our brand," notes Kass. "Lean manufacturing makes quality our No. 1 focus by improving efficiencies, productivity and profitability. By manufacturing shoes in the United States, Allen-Edmonds is able to produce superior quality footwear and provide the outstanding customer service for which the company has been renowned for the past 84 years."

Kass 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 Joe Blanck, vice president of operations, strategy and manufacturing excellence at Schneider Electric (Palatine, IL); Tim Corcoran, vice president of ZF North America (Vernon Hills, IL); and Jamie Flinchbaugh, partner in the Lean Learning Center (Novi, MI) and author of ASSEMBLY magazine's monthly "Leading Lean" column.

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 CLICK HERE.