Share, Learn, and Grow

The Association for Manufacturing Excellence

Years before becoming President and Chief Executive Officer at The Association for Manufacturing Excellence in April of 2016, George Saiz gained considerable experience as a materials manager, vice president of operations, and other key positions with companies such as Johnson & Johnson and MicroAire Surgical Instruments, where he served as president. With a keen interest in lean manufacturing and enterprise excellence going back decades, Saiz was a member of AME since 2005, a part of the Champions Club, a board member and Treasurer, “and a long-time believer in enterprise excellence and lean since about 1992.”
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Headquartered in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, The Association for Manufacturing Excellence today encompasses an impressive membership of about 5,000. Active in nine regions, including the United States and Canada, the AME also two affiliate franchisees in the United Kingdom and Australia which are their own separate entities. Formed in 1985 with just a handful of volunteers, the organization has come a long way, with a full-time staff of 17 and 200 active volunteers.

Passionate about manufacturing
As “the premier association dedicated to the journey of continuous improvement and enterprise excellence,” the AME serves a wide-ranging membership of small, mom-and-pop operations all the way to medium and large companies such as automation giant Siemens, electronic manufacturing company Littelfuse, and courier delivery company FedEx, to name just a few. Wide-ranging, these businesses represent an A to Z of manufacturing sectors including aerospace, medical, mining, oil and gas, government, healthcare, service industries, and many others involved with or touched by manufacturing. “It is a broad, broad range of companies,” explains Saiz. “While we are teaching or espousing the lean approach, it applies to anywhere there is a process. And so, every business is a process, and it applies all over business.”

With a history going back almost 35 years, The Association for Manufacturing Excellence continues to promote the benefits of lean manufacturing processes, which can make the difference between a company’s success or failure. With the goal of adding value and reducing waste, lean manufacturing processes go back to the 1940s and automotive giant Toyota’s TPS – Toyota Production System – which became widely popularized as ‘lean’ in the 1990s. Companies embracing lean manufacturing methods benefit from increased productivity, improved delivery times, lowered costs, and a host of other competitive advantages. “At the AME, our niche is lean manufacturing, helping companies to go along their journey,” states Saiz of the organization.

Although created in 1985 when it emerged from the American Production and Inventory Control Association (APICS), The Association for Manufacturing Excellence’s roots trace back to the 1970s, at a time when “Materials Requirements Planning was the hot topic,” according to the Early History of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence. “Software companies wrote MRP programs. Consultants pushed it and installed it. Articles urged managements to adopt it. And APICS was the professional MRP society. Because MRP came from a job shop environment of work orders and push systems, mass production could not tolerate the paper blizzard from job shop MRP. A special interest group of APICS, called the Repetitive Manufacturing Group (RMG), formed to consider the problems and find solutions.”

With a number of individuals involved in the early years, a presentation was held discussing MRP in a mass production environment back in 1977. Soon, business cards from interested parties were collected, a list compiled, and 21 attended, sharing their experiences and talking about industry challenges. The organization grew, formed a steering committee, and held workshops and conferences. A newsletter was created, and the first AME Annual Conference was held in September of 1985, featuring speakers from well-known companies such as Black & Decker, Harley-Davidson, and GE Appliances. A board was created, and the group continues to grow to this day.

Benefits of membership
President and CEO Saiz is a great believer in the AME and its initiatives, and is committed to increasing the organization’s visibility. “AME is one of the best-kept secrets,” he says of the group, which has a core following of dedicated members, and is strategizing methods to reach new audiences. “We bring people together through our tagline, ‘Share, Learn, Grow,’” he says. “What AME is all about is peer-to-peer, practitioner to practitioner sharing. So if you come to our international conference, the three core days of our conference are 100 percent practitioners sharing with other practitioners how they’ve done what they’ve done.”

Dedicated to fostering continuous improvement and helping members learn more about lean manufacturing, the AME’s annual event is the place to be this coming Oct. 29 to Nov. 1. The largest lean conference in the world, the theme of this year’s event is Create Waves of Excellence. To be held in San Diego, California – a recognized center for technological innovation – the event is poised to welcome between 1,800 and 2,000 attendees, boasting content tailored to the theme. Last year’s event, held in Boston, centered on the theme ‘get engaged,’ focusing on employee engagement. 2019’s conference will be in Chicago, 2020’s in Toronto, and 2021’s in Atlanta.

With this year’s conference focusing on ways to speed the journey toward excellence, significant changes affecting manufacturing, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things, will be explored and discussed. From interactive practitioner sessions to best practice tours, in-depth workshops, and several impressive keynote speakers including innovation expert Jeremy Gutsche and NFL legend Joe Theismann, there will be something for everyone, from special group sessions to networking opportunities, optional paid workshops (where consultants talk to members; otherwise consultants are not allowed to present), and much more.

Especially popular are tours. Host cities boast at least 30 to 40 good lean manufacturing sites within a reasonable bus drive for offsite tours. “So that means as we vet a city, we are looking for airport access, hotel accommodations, and manufacturing sites for tours,” states Saiz. “It’s pretty well packed between the presentations, special interest groups, panel discussions, networking and keynote speakers. The whole idea of the ‘share learn grow’ is that you will share, and somebody else will learn, and they’ll grow, and hopefully they’ll come back, and they will share with somebody. So it’s a big network of practitioners sharing.”

Along with the international conference, there are many membership benefits that come with being a part of the AME, including online networking opportunities where members can connect with groups about a number of interesting topics, and the Champions Club for senior executives. There is also the quarterly Target magazine, and Target online – a weekly publication that goes out to about 30,000 individuals – and online access to Target archives going back almost 30 years.

The future of lean
Lean initiatives, says Saiz, can be implemented not only in manufacturing, but many other sectors. In his years with lean, he has seen applications range from missile and drone manufacturing to food processing and auto scrapyards. “Wherever there is a process, there is a huge opportunity,” he says. In one instance, a hospital CEO said 40 percent of the patients couldn’t afford to pay a dime, and their goal was to break even. Once the CEO learned more about lean and implemented lean initiatives, the hospital became profitable, even with 40 percent of customers not paying. By eliminating steps that do not add value, businesses of all sorts can make tremendous improvements.

As part of the ‘manufacturing renaissance’ and the future of the AME, the organization is established on the operations side, and is striving to work toward an enterprise-wide model, which applies to everything from manufacturing to research and office functions. “Lean has the opportunity to really transform a company and transform its employees,” states Saiz, “so that’s really our goal, to do that and be relevant. The whole world is changing at a much faster rate, and we need to be able to understand how to translate what lean enterprise excellence means in the next generation of technology.”

Closing the Gap

A lack of skills training has been an issue for decades but is fast approaching a crisis worldwide. High schools have been reducing or eliminating shop classes for years; experienced workers of the baby boomer generation are retiring, and guidance councillors have long discouraged students from entering the manufacturing sector in favour of white-collar careers.

Past Issues

May 24, 2019, 12:18 PM EDT