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For a company in Chesterfield, Mo., it involved something as seemingly simple as attaching a trash can to an employee’s chair.
For one in St. Louis, it meant leaving the cover off an electronic temperature controller.
For others it’s meant gathering employees from the chief executive on down for what’s known as Kaizen events — based on the Japanese word for continuing improvement.
What do these seemingly unconnected efforts have in common? They are approaches to what is known as lean manufacturing — or, more recently, lean production — aimed at streamlining production processes, enhancing employee engagement and increasing profits.
Take for example, Watlow, a 96-year-old family-owned business in St. Louis, that designs and manufactures industrial heaters, temperature sensors and other components of thermal systems. It was founded in 1922 (making heating elements for the shoe industry) by Louis Desloge.
In 2006, with Peter Desloge, the third-generation chief executive charge, the company adopted lean production principles.
“A competitive environment forced us to figure out how to lower our costs while also better engaging our people.” Desloge said, adding, Watlow chose the lean route “because the approach doesn’t just reduce cost and drive productivity, but also “increases value to our customers and engages everyone in the business to eliminate waste.”
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