BY TOM KEYSER
Former CFL Lineman Helps Companies
Streamline for Profit
During nine years as an offensive lineman in the Canadian
Football League, Chuck Harrison, P.Eng., made a point of
listening to his coaches.
Today, though, he does the talking, Alberta business executives
do the listening – and it appears that many of them
profit from the experience.
Mr. Harrison, who suited up for the Ottawa Rough Riders and
Winnipeg Blue Bombers before retiring in 1975, is an industrial
engineer who now carries the ball for the National Research
He's one of about 25 engineering and technical consultants
who share a broad range of expertise with established small-
and medium-sized Alberta businesses seeking guidance through
the NRC's Industrial Research Assistance Program. Another
225 NRC experts provide similar services throughout the country.
Mr. Harrison’s specialty is a strategic approach to
manufacturing that strives to eliminate inefficient procedures. "We
work with companies that want to help themselves," he
It’s an all-out blitz Mr. Harrison teaches, really,
on wasted time, wasted resources and wasted operating dollars.
The Low-down on Lean
Known as "lean" manufacturing, the strategy has
created a significant buzz in industry, and for good reason.
The common-sense strategic theory dates back to Henry Ford
but has gained recent currency through books such as Lean
Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation,
by Jim Womack and Daniel Jones.
Many members of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters
are among the believers and corporate decision-makers who've
embraced the streamlining principles. They aren't shy about
sharing their enthusiasm.
Louis Kelemen, P. Eng., began attending Mr. Harrison's workshops
several years ago. His Calgary-based furniture manufacturing
company, Simo Corporation, generates almost $12 million in
Mr. Harrison’s expertise "has helped Simo turn
around its bottom line and has positioned us well to compete
in the new world economy,” says Mr. Kelemen, the president
How so? There's no way to sum up the finer points of the
Harrison approach in a short space. Suffice to say that lean
has everything to do with training your employees to help
you spot and correct procedural inefficiencies, inside the
office and shop.
When Inventory Equals Waste
The most notorious enemy of productivity is excess inventory,
Mr. Harrison says. “If a company carries too much
inventory, it's costing money. When I see too many shelves,
I see waste," he explains.
"If you have $1 million worth of inventory sitting on
shelves, you're paying for space, heat, lighting, as well as
to move it around."
But by cutting back on unproductive storage and shipping
procedures, companies reduce costs by as much as 30 per cent.
Take the example of Calgary's Kudu Industries, the most-cited "lean" success
story. A 16-year-old manufacturer of cavity pump systems,
Kudu almost hit rock bottom when the price of oil crashed
during the late 1990s.
But CEO Robert Mills started exploring the lean philosophy
the following year. After streamlining production methods
and simultaneously cutting costs, Kudu sales more than doubled
inside of five years.
It now carries a far lower-valued inventory than it did in
1998, and can compete when oil prices are low or high, Mr.
Kudu isn’t the only company learning lean. In conjunction
with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, the National
Research Council has invited interested business leaders
to meet in networking groups of "lean" supporters
around the province. Participating corporations pay a fee
to join each "consortium" (two in Calgary, one
each in Red Deer and Edmonton) but generally find it's money
In Calgary, such companies as SMED International, NovAtel,
ATCO Structures and Standens Ltd. Participate. Even Canada
Post has bought into the concept – lean principles
can successfully apply to non-manufacturing businesses.
"It's about members helping members," says Mr. Harrison.
There's another point he'd like to stress: "Lean means
inviting your people to participate. You've got to train
your employees,” he says.
"People think lean and mean go together. But under the
lean philosophy, people shouldn't have to fear for their jobs."