Electricity and Mining: Lean Can Work for Everyone

It is always encouraging to listen to business executives who are open-minded about lean.

Too often, people who work in an industry where lean is not well-known will voice some variation of the phrase “we’re different” – meaning they view lean as applying only to manufacturing generally or the automotive industry specifically, and don’t believe it will work for them.

A refreshing example of the opposite situation was presented at the recent San Diego regional conference of the
Association for Manufacturing Excellence. I’m referring to a presentation by two executives of Luminant.

Texas-based Luminant is a utility company, but it is really in two businesses. One is generating electricity: The company is the largest power company in Texas and one of the largest in the country. Its other business is mining coal to produce that electricity. Luminant is, in fact, the 10th largest mining company in the U.S.

I’ve only heard of a handful of utilities that have embraced lean, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a mining company doing so.

Luminant has been on a lean journey for at least four years. And its leaders seem to understand that, to truly succeed, lean must involve the total enterprise. They described their efforts to not only apply lean to all aspects of operations, but to involve all employees through training and participation. “Each employee was expected to have one implemented idea per week,” said Steve Wells of Luminant, one of the speakers.

He and colleague Paul Dowden described the millions of dollars in revenue improvements resulting from the transformation (not to mention a significant increase in the company’s stock price). Another benefit of lean: “It makes your dog much safer. You don’t go home and kick him now,” Wells said jokingly. (At least I hope he was joking.)

And in a further example of what can be the cross-industry appeal of lean, Wells said representatives of American Airlines had visited Luminant to view their lean accomplishments.

Have you ever benefited from studying lean at a completely different industry? How did that help?

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