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'Lean Team' helps businesses improve efficiency


   

Two women wearing safety goggles write on papers covering a table on the Swan Corporation plant floor. LeanTeam members Adrienn Andersch (left) and Rebecca Buck prepare educational materials to share with plant employees during the team’s visit to Swan Corporation.


BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 14, 2011 – Students in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment have established Lean@VirginiaTech, an organization dedicated to supporting businesses in their quest to become more competitive and profitable. 

The student organization supports lean transformation efforts in many types of companies through education and hands-on support.

Urs Buehlmann, associate professor of wood science and forest products, who co-founded Lean@VirginiaTech with graduate students Christian Fricke and Mathias Schmitt, defines lean as “a management philosophy, a management approach. The simplest definition is doing more with less. Lean is eliminating waste, and waste is everything that the customer does not value and thus is not willing to pay for.”

Though based in the Department of Wood Science and Forest Products, Lean@Virginia Tech is open to undergraduate and graduate students from any department or major with an interest in lean concepts. The student-driven, faculty-supported initiative has two branches — the LeanTeam@VirginiaTech and the LeanClub@VirginiaTech.

The LeanTeam@VirginiaTech includes students and faculty members involved in supporting lean transformation efforts in companies through training, advising, and problem solving. LeanTeam students work with third parties on real-world problems, take industry excursions, conduct research projects, and present training workshops.

“The LeanTeam is a place where students can enhance their learning of lean concepts by applying their knowledge and experience in practical business settings while benefiting organizations across the commonwealth,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

“Being part of the LeanTeam allows me to apply knowledge learned in real-world situations and to refine my experience with input from industry practitioners,” said Chao Wang, a graduate student in charge of operations for the LeanTeam.

“The LeanTeam really has taken my education to higher levels while I also enjoy the collegiality and support of the other team members,” added Angela Zhou, a gradaute student and the organization’s treasurer.

The LeanClub@VirginiaTech is a voluntary group of businesses with an interest in lean concepts. As club members, companies have the opportunity to build a network with students, faculty, and other companies to support their lean transformation activities. All club events, such as summits, workshops, and informal exchanges of information, are administered by the student members of the LeanTeam.

“The LeanClub achieves two things,” explained doctoral student Adrienn Andersch, who leads the group’s marketing efforts. “It brings together companies, administrations, and institutions, and allows them to exchange ideas and information while enabling students to learn and network.”

Last spring, LeanTeam members traveled to Centralia, Ill., to apply their lean knowledge and skills by conducting lean transformation events for Swan Corporation, a solid-surface producer for the kitchen and bath industry headquartered in St. Louis, Mo.

Focusing on two aspects of the production process — die change-over time and single piece flow — the team, in cooperation with company employees, identified opportunities for faster production, simplified procedures, and improved processes, resulting in a 67 percent reduction in die change-over time and a 90 percent improvement in production lead time.

“These are exactly the type of changes that need to occur for Swan Corporation to remain a premier supplier of high-end building products,” declared company CEO Steve Anderson. He also offered the LeanTeam an open door to conduct future lean events in his company’s facilities.

In August, the LeanTeam gave a presentation about lean and related management systems at the International Woodworking Fair (IWF) in Atlanta, explaining how the different systems work together in relation to the larger concept of lean.

“When IWF asked us to give a presentation, we agreed that it would be a great opportunity for the students to teach others about lean,” Buehlmann said. “They gave a better presentation than we ever could have!”

The LeanTeam is currently preparing for their next workshop, focusing on lean administration, to be held in the Raleigh-Durham area in March.

For more information, contact Lean@VirginiaTech or visit the organization’s website.

The College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, which consistently ranks among the top three programs of its kind in the nation, advances the science of sustainability. Programs prepare the future generation of leaders to address the complex natural resources issues facing the planet. World-class faculty lead transformational research that complements the student learning experience and impacts citizens and communities across the globe on sustainability issues, especially as they pertain to water, climate, fisheries, wildlife, forestry, sustainable biomaterials, ecosystems, and geography. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.