Lean manufacturer: New Balance

Site statistics be damned -there are so few examples of needle-trades manufacturers that employ lean despite the fact that we’re uniquely positioned to employ the strategy- but it would appear that athletic shoe manufacturer New Balance is a successful convert to lean manufacturing. Mark at Lean Manufacturing Blog (via Curious Cat and thanks to Eric) transcribes a New Balance hang-tag:

“Many of of shoes are produced in one of six United States factories. While most of the footwear industry has moved its production overseas to take advantage of low labor costs and generally cheaper production costs, we continue to have many of our shoes made in the U.S. and have expanded production substantially. Since 1995, we have increased our manufacturing jobs by 65%. We at New Balance are proud to provide jobs to the U.S. workforce, and proud of our well educated, high quality associates who can compete with anyone in the world. Through their hard work, we are able to make many of our models of shoes in the United States despite the competition from lower cost imports.”

Mark also includes a link to Picking up the Pace, an article highlighting New Balance’s conversion to Lean from the Kennebunc Journal which reads in part:

Williams said efforts to employ lean manufacturing began after Jim Davis, president of the company, told the executive group he wanted them to shorten from 17 weeks to two weeks the time span between customer orders and shipping….Williams said he decided “why not shoot for one day?” and that became the goal…The first order of business was to get rid of the uncompleted shoes on the floor, Wentworth said. Each department did its share of the work, completing about $500,000 worth of shoes that were tied up in inventory. “Shoes sitting around are a waste,” Williams said. “Now we cut the shoes and pack them in that afternoon. Nobody thought we could do it. That’s huge.”

Then the staff put together a new plant layout, combining all the operations from the first floor into one end of the factory, which reduced work space from about 80,000 feet to about 40,000. Williams and Wentworth said that equipment is now lined up in the most logical way to make each operation seamless, continuous with the next, cutting down on unnecessary movement and mistakes….The people who apply that knowledge think so, too.

Jennifer Roderick, an 11-year veteran at New Balance who works in the pre-fit section, said her job has been simplified. “It’s pretty unbelievable, actually,” Roderick said. “Where I work, I get my parts right from cutting. Everything I need to do my job is right there. We have so many cases we have to do in an hour. Before lean came, we got everything all together and then had to sort it out.” Roderick said mistakes are more easily corrected now, too. “If we have problems, like a bad cut (on a shoe part), all I have to say is ‘cut me a new one’ to the person right beside me.”

A tour of New Balance’s website reveals the sort of site I’d recommend to wholesale manufacturers in that it provides consumers with a view of how products are developed, rather than direct marketing. It’s geared toward education rather than selling. A section entitled The Shoe Development Process details product development from initiation to concept to design and prototyping, to product testing and production. The broadest descriptives are available for the production phase where you can see die “clicker” cutting, construction, embroidery (pre-sewing naturally) and heat sealing and gluing. Also provided are details regarding their customer-based product testing -with nary a mention of focus groups! It would seem I’m not the only one with a distrust of focus groups; I still believe you’d get better results reading chicken entrails or tea leaves than you would with focus groups but that’s another story.

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  1. Josh says:

    LOVE IT! I love New Balance and happen to be wearing a pair as I type this out. I wear them to my shop every day. They are the only shoes that make my feet feel good.

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