Does your operation understand lean?

Clair Urbain photo
Clair Urbain, Editor, Pro Contractor Rentals magazine.

With 30 years of experience serving the business-to-business universe, I’ve had many chances to rub shoulders with a wide variety of operations and industries.

During my stint serving industrial audiences, I learned many things about lean manufacturing, which is an interesting, information-intensive concept. Then, I had the opportunity to jump back into the construction sphere and I started asking about implementing lean concepts in different phases of the construction process.

Lean proponents estimated that the top-producing and profitable construction outfits were, at best, 30 percent efficient. Opponents pooh-poohed the lean process, citing that the factory floor is a much more controlled environment with highly repetitive tasks, whereas construction sites are very dynamic.

Lean gurus aim to reduce muda, the Japanese word for waste of time, materials and effort. It encompasses overproduction, waiting, transporting, too much or too little processing, too much or too little inventory, too many steps and effort to complete a process and too many defects caused by inconsistent processes.

Increasingly, construction contractors are embracing lean concepts and it leads many of them to look at their equipment fleets. For many, it doesn’t take too long to understand the costs of iron sitting idle and how it affects the bottom line. More often, contractors would rather rent or short-term lease specific tools, paying for the use of equipment instead of owning those tools.

Lean concepts can be applied to rental operations as well. Think about your check-in/check-out processes. Too many steps; inconsistent methods? Repairs and maintenance bottle-neck in your shop as mechanics wait on parts? High-hour equipment leaving customers stalled in the field, costing them money?

Some of the best lean gurus in your operation are your front-line workers who keep equipment on the move in and out of your facility. Titan Machinery, our featured rental center this issue, works with the front-line folks for training of best practices and picks their brains on how to improve processes. The result: faster equipment turns, greater reliability and happier customers.

Pick up a book or two that discusses lean operating principles. It may spark some ideas to help your operation become more efficient and less wasteful.