Thirst of Curiosity Leads Mechanical Engineer to a Career in Lean Manufacturing
For Vicky Jandreau, director of the GROWTTH (Get Rid of Waste Through Team Harmony) program at Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies, Plymouth Township, MI, a career in manufacturing suited her personality.
“I felt drawn to watching my father; whether it was replacing the alternator in his car or figuring out creatively how to solve a problem he didn't have the right tools for,” she said. “It’s what led me to understand what drives me — resourcefulness and a thirst for curiosity. I took a manufacturing job right out of high school and realized it was an environment where I can play on what makes me passionate in life.”
Jandreau worked as a machine operator on the shop floor at the Bristol, NH, plant for several years before going to night school and obtaining her mechanical engineering technology degree. It was as an operator in 1994 that she was first introduced to the idea of lean manufacturing.
“The concepts of making our work easier, more efficient, and the ability to have a voice to make change happen touched my soul,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of this larger group of GROWTTH and I focused my career around it—as quality manager, operations manager, business unit manager—to motivate my team and lead by example.”
The cornerstone of the program is the Kaizen methodology, which means continuous improvement—taking a lean tool, bringing a cross-functional team together and solving a problem. “We have set a structure that promotes the use of Kaizen and lean tools with an expectation that each facility will conduct workshops every year focused on the organizational targets,” Jandreau explained.
Strategic projects are considered major Kaizens; Freudenberg reported more than 700 of them in 2017 at 20 facilities in the Americas. Minor Kaizens involve one or two people who may make a small yet impactful improvement; Jandreau said more than 19,000 of them were reported last year.
To support this level of activity requires expertise in applying lean tools. The company has roughly 1,400 people trained and certified in lean manufacturing techniques.
Jandreau manages the programs to ensure each facility fosters this culture of collaboration. In addition to Kaizens, knowledge and best practices are shared during “Best Practice Exchange Days” to bring each plant up to the same standards of excellence the company strives for.
“Collaboration in manufacturing is important because together is better,” she explained. “If you solve things in a team environment, you garner acceptability of the change.”
Making processes better translates into real savings for the manufacturer, both in soft costs (time) and hard costs such as materials and energy. Jandreau said that since 1992, the company has saved nearly $400 million globally in hard and soft costs.
“This commitment to the program definitely helped us in 2008 during the economic hardship,” she said. “We used lean tools to put us in a stronger position when everyone else came out of it.”