It's About ''Survival Of The Leanest'' For Menasha's Printing Business... Milwaukee School Of Engineering Recognizes Progress On Lean Journey


NEENAH, Wis...

It looks like any other printing plant in a small town in the Midwest. At least at a first and casual glance. But there is something different going on at Menasha Packaging Company's Neenah Wide Web plant. The "something different" is how the plant's employees are doing their jobs.

To many of the employees, this difference is not only about reducing costs and improving performance and efficiency, it's about ensuring the plant's very survival.

"I look at it this way," said a Menasha employee. "We are a 150-year-plus-old company and good at what we do. But if we hadn't started this, we would be gone. It's basically 'survival of the leanest' in our industry. It's all about being Lean."

"Being Lean" is what Milwaukee School of Engineering President Hermann Viets, Ph.D., is coming to see when he visits the plant today. And while there for a plant tour and a business presentation, he will recognize Neenah Wide Web as a facility making significant progress on its Lean Journey. Because of its accomplishments to date, the Neenah Wide Web plant will be included as an MSOE tour site for outside organizations wishing to see Lean Six Sigma in operation.

Results to date include a shift in the plant's culture, with employees motivated to seek continuous process improvement and focused on meeting customer needs more efficiently. Specifically, Lean Six Sigma has helped employees reduce set up times on some of the plant's printing equipment, slashing time by more than 50%. The employees can run the same number of jobs in five days that once required six to seven days to complete. This has created a new business model at the plant, along with other improvements in areas such as facility safety, removing work place clutter, plant lighting, and better communications among employees in different work groups.

"You have to be competitive to survive in the marketplace," said Steve Roberts, director of Lean for Menasha Packaging. "And to be competitive, you have to look at the entire way you do business in a very different way. You have to create a new company- and workplace-wide environment dedicated to examining everything you do to find the best and most efficient way to do it. This isn't a one shot deal. This is a continuous improvement process. And that is what Lean Six Sigma is helping us accomplish today."

This "Lean Journey" started more than two years ago when Menasha Packaging began its relationship with MSOE through the school's Business Excellence Consortium program. With the assistance of MSOE, the company trained its employees in the principles and techniques of two separate business or organizational processes, Lean and Six Sigma. Lean, a continuous improvement strategy, helped employees identify and remove non-value adding activities. Six Sigma, a qualitative, data-driven discipline that uses statistical processes, helped employees improve their plant's competitiveness by eliminating waste and improving the quality of its processes and products.

Since that time, MSOE has trained 50 Menasha Packaging employees, including Mike Waite, president of Menasha Packaging, in the Lean process.

"We are different today than we were just a few years ago," said Carlton Sealock, the plant's Lean trainer and quality manager specialist. "We are focused on processes that are already creating success, helping this plant not just stay alive, but thrive in what is a very tight market."