In September of 2014, I was with a small group from Astec that visited a company in Chattanooga that manufactures equipment that makes carpet (tufting machines). Our host was Jim Joyner, and as he described their business I was astounded at the similarities that the tufting machine business had to the asphalt plant business. I thought Astec was unique. This tufting machine business makes around 60 machines a year. No two are the same. They have 60% market share. They are not the least expensive option, and they pride themselves on innovation, service, and integrity. Does that sound familiar? That is US! I made notes as Jim Joyner described their manufacturing “lean” journey. First, I learned that “lean” doesn’t mean “skinny”, it’s about looking at every process and doing things smarter. I also learned that “lean” isn’t an event, it’s a journey. It is a continuous process. I came back to the office and summarized my notes into 26 points of learning and I have handed these notes to anyone who has seemed even slightly interested in the last four years.
Fast forward to 2018. When I learned that Jim Joyner was going to be working full time for Astec, I was excited for two reasons. First, I knew that our leadership was committed to a culture of making significant improvements, and second, I knew that we would be working with someone who is just as committed to that culture.
We soon learned that before we got too far along the “lean” path, we had to take care of quality. Quality is no longer a selling point. Quality is a basic requirement for participation in the market place. Astec, just like all the Astec Industries companies, has been going through a formal quality program (QED: Quality Education and Development) that will touch everyone in the company. The goal is to make sure our culture lines up with our quality policy, “We will continuously learn and understand our internal and external customer requirements and will provide defect-free products and services on time, every time”.
I learned that lean doesn’t mean skinny, it’s about looking at every process and doing things smarter. I also learned it’s a journey.
A big part of the training is realizing that meeting the requirements of our internal customers (those are the folks inside our company who receive or are impacted by the output of our process) are just as crucial as meeting the requirements for our external (those are the end users) customers. For example, as an engineer, my internal customer is manufacturing. QED teaches that I need to have continuous devotion to meeting the needs of manufacturing on a personal and departmental basis. This is more than just fixing problems. This is a new way of thinking about our work and focusing on eliminating nonconformance to the requirements of manufacturing. One way we are addressing this is having our “lead” product engineers (they “own” the product) work at least one day, all day, from the shop each week. This isn’t an experiment or a “program”, it’s a new way of life. The results have been very eye opening. Engineering has learned ways to become an even better supplier to our manufacturing “customer”.
As the manufacturing employees have gotten to know the engineers, they have started to open up and work together to identify opportunities for improvement and implement change. This is just one example of the steps that Astec is taking as it renews its commitment to providing high quality equipment and service.
President, Astec, Inc.