"In the past our focus has been more reactive," explains Jack Parsons, manager, supplier development, Honda of America Mfg. (HAM) "But we recognized there was an opportunity to take stable suppliers to the next level." He’s talking about HAM’s Lean Network initiative. Think of it as a graduate course in lean manufacturing for automotive suppliers, complete with real-life case studies—of each other. Here’s how it works: each member company identifies an operation that it wants to improve and then applies lean principles to it with a little guidance from Honda and input from other members. Once a year a progress report is made on the activity to the entire network. There are also periodic meetings where the network can, ah, network. "We wanted this to be self-directed," says Parsons.
Honda kicked off the program in May 2003 and expected to get between four and 10 companies involved. The group now consists of 34 companies (of HAM’s 400 or so), which represent about 30% of HAM’s total purchases. As for future members: they’re depending on word-of-mouth for recruitment. Or as Parsons puts it in lean jargon: "We want to create a pull system of participation."—KEW