TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The Management Briefing Seminars here let University of Michigan researchers out of their ivory towers every August to offer indirect assistance to the auto industry, but throughout the year the Business and Industrial Assistance Div. provides concrete help that is spreading the lean manufacturing message.

“I want to thank Steve Wilson for his help in getting TAAC (Trade Adjustment Assistant Center) assistance,” says John Bratt, chairman of Tenax Corp., whose subsidiary Hoffco Inc. got a federal grant that helped pay for training in lean manufacturing.

Wilson, project manager of the U-M division, told a sparse audience Monday afternoon TAAC funds remain available for companies that are losing employment and sales to imports.

Bratt says lean manufacturing training started in March at Hoffco, a maker of lawn and garden equipment, and results already are starting to be visible in new factory floor layouts.

Versions of the Toyota Production System (TPS) now are standard throughout the auto industry, and its emphasis on visibility, standardization and simplicity now is spreading into other industries.

Wilson says health care is the industry that could most benefit from a lean approach, and that the smallest companies in any industry are likely to benefit most from adopting the principles.

TPS gives quick results, which are important to encouraging the necessary cultural shift in a company, Wilson says.

“TPS gets the low-hanging fruit quickly,” he says. “Six Sigma (another lean-manufacturing methodology) is more complex and is like bringing in the ladder to get the high fruit.”