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Here’s a round-up of some recent trade articles, blog posts and opinion pieces about all things manufacturing. Whether you’re a small business, a large factory or a part of a supply chain, one theme for success runs through all thriving businesses – continuous improvement. Here are a few inspirational and a few instructional stories that stuck with us in the last month. Happy reading!

Keen Marks the Spot

Industry Week journalist Travis Hessman offers an inside look at how Portland Oregon’s Keen shoe manufacturing remains one of the VERY few shoe companies to still operate a manufacturing facility in the U.S. with humans doing most of the work.

This innovative company thrives on thinking outside the box. “Innovation is ingrained in the culture here,” explains Rory Fuerst Jr., director of innovation at KEEN. “As we see it, you have to be comfortable in the unknown, otherwise you’ll never move forward.”

Hessman says that Keen, by focusing on bold innovation above traditional tactics, has found a way not just to sell products and cultivate a growing army of customers, but to do so in a way that creates jobs in an impossible industry in an impossible setting.  Get ready to get inspired – and want to order a pair of Keen shoes. Read the article here.

Mom, Lean Educator Takes Kanban to the Lunchbox

Best. Back-to-school. Article.Ever.

Deborah McGee, a staffer at Lean Enterprise Institute, applies Lean and Kanban protocols to getting her kids to pack their own healthy lunches for school.

LeanPost blogger Deborah McGee writes about applying continuous improvement and Kanban protocols to teaching her kids to pack their own lunches.

As her commute time extended, McGee decided lunch packing was going to become the responsibility of her kids. Her funny and honest account of the highs and lows of getting her kids on board with her continuous improvement plans for the family is a great illustration of applying new practices to an existing culture to eliminate waste – and how being flexible and patient is the key to Lean success.

Read it here.

Self-Driving Boats Next Tech Feat

Technology changes quickly. Just over a year ago, automated vehicles seemed like the newest thing, and now news stories about companies advancing their autonomous cars are ho-hum.

The Associated Press reports the newest transportation to go automated is boats.

AP Photo: The Sea Machines V1 Autonomous Work Boat is primarily designed for heavy work such as towing and barge moving, the V1 also has the capability for extended survey operations and station keeping/standoff applications.

Spurred in part by the car industry’s race to build driverless vehicles, marine innovators are building automated ferry boats for Amsterdam canals, cargo ships that can steer themselves through Norwegian fjords and remote-controlled ships to carry containers across the Atlantic and Pacific. The first such autonomous ships could be in operation within three years.

Read the story here.

State-by-State Look at U.S. Manufacturing

We found this article on the Manufacturing Global website and it came from a company called Bid-On-Equipment who put the info together from statistics from the  Bureau of Labor statistics.

Basically it breaks down the top manufacturing products from each state. It’s really interesting and gives a  good visual of how and where our country produces the over $2 trillion worth of products, with the manpower of over 12.4 million U.S. workers. Did you know Hawaii’s top manufacturing product is tortillas? Or that most all boats and ships are produced in Maine? The Bid-On-Equipment site adds on a lot of info-graphics to look at too. Check them out here.

Gemba Walks Should Aim for Effectiveness, Not Necessarily Efficiency

Lean blogger Mark Graban posted his take on what makes a Gemba Walk successful. We agree that an efficient Gemba Walk isn’t as important as an EFFECTIVE Gemba Walk.

“Effective walks should include stopping to engage with employees, to see, to listen, to problem solve… those things take time,” Graban writes. “If the goal is efficiency, to check the box on making a superficial visit to each department, I’d suggest roller skates or a Segway.”

We’ve wriiten about the benefits of Gemba Walks, which are much, much more than “management taking a walk around the plant.” With good planning, an open mind and exercises meant to look for waste and engage in meaningful communication with employees working on the floor, Gemba Wallks can lead to incredible improvements for a company.

This post also has a lot of good links to other posts which discuss Gemba Walks, making it a well-rounded tutorial for those looking for information about Gemba Walks. Read it here.

Book Report: The Lean Strategy

Katie Anderson offers a great book report on the new book, “Lean Strategy” by Michael Balle, Michael Balle, Daniel Jones, Jacques Chaize, and Orest Fiume.

Anderson discuess the book with author Balle using two stand-out premises as the foundation for their conversation. Anderson says, “For me, two standout contributions to Lean thinking presented “The Lean Strategy,” are that familiar tools and concepts in Lean (or TPS) are actually frames – structures for deeper thinking — and 2 — that Lean fundamentally is about changing leadership habits in both thinking and behavior. I agree with many of the points in the book – especially that Lean is a learning system and requires each person to think and act differently.”

She breaks up her interview and book report into two blog posts. The first one is here.  The second part is here.