A Day at the Races

The Weekly Report – June 10, 2024
A competition between seasoned packaging experts and Enterprise Minnesota consultants reveals a path to greater efficiency.

For several months, Enterprise Minnesota consultants Eric Blaha and Kari Rusing worked with employees and managers at Lind Electronics in Minnetonka to find ways to improve efficiencies and cut costs in their business operations. A race between the consultants and Lind’s packaging department offered a breakthrough moment.

“We were struggling to get them to see how minor changes in the way they worked could result in significant improvements,” Blaha says. “So, one day in the middle of class I thought, ‘Well, let’s go try it.’” The race was on.

When the contest started, the Lind team dropped right into their familiar routine — pre-assembled boxes, printed labels up and down their arms, with warranty cards at the ready. They prepared packages for shipping in batches.

Team Blaha-Rusing prepared nothing. Instead, they followed a single-flow assembly line: one person executed one phase of the process — boxing, labeling, etc. — before handing it off to the next phase.

The consultants narrowly lost the race, but not before opening eyes around the company. ““That was a transformational moment,” says Joe Carlin, Lind’s general manager.

“It changed their whole perspective. After that experiment they were on board with making changes,” Blaha says. “Now they operate everything on a single-piece flow line, and their productivity in distribution has jumped tremendously.”

The larger point, according to Blaha, was that it’s smart to question how we do things in search of a better way — on a manufacturing shop floor or anywhere else. The packaging gambit, while technically unsuccessful, showed employees that they left money on the table by not sifting out inefficient processes.

Lind has produced the highest quality power supplies to the electronics industry since it was founded in Leroy Lind’s Minnetonka basement. Its customers include Apple, IBM, Panasonic, and other tech industry giants. Because of its success in virtually eliminating defects, it was hard for Lind to embrace changes that could cut costs, even though quality standards would remain intact. The packaging race offered a new perspective.

This proud culture of quality control required double, sometimes triple inspections, even when manufacturing had progressed to a point where it’d be impossible to fix the part. Enterprise Minnesota used value stream mapping and data analysis to help Lind put quality in the process rather than inspection, which reduced waste.

“Lind has been known for a really, really high-quality product. But they’ve achieved it at their own expense because they over-inspect,” Blaha says. “So they’re spending massive amounts of money to achieve those last couple tenths of a percent.”

“We were just adding a tremendous amount of waste to that product. We figured out we removed about a half-million dollars from the cost through that exercise,” says Carlin.

Blaha and Rusing used their outsider status to propel the initiative, Carlin says. Production employees might have been skeptical of a proposal to improve their efficiency if it had come from him or other company leaders.

“That neutral party facilitation gave them a voice in the process, gave them a voice in the innovation and the fixing of the workflow design — in a way that we wouldn’t have gotten had we done it internally,” Carlin says. “Doing it this way gives them the voice. They have ownership of those ideas. I think that was a big part of success.”

For more detail about Lind’s transformation, check out the latest issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine.

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