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Cogent puts power behind lean for an AME award


December 9, 2009
by Joe Terrett

Cogent Power Inc. puts a great deal of energy into making continuous improvement and problem solving a way of life and it has been recognized by the Association of Manufacturing Excellence (AME) for doing so.

The Burlington, Ont. manufacturer of transformer components and electrical steel products for the power generation, transmission and distribution markets was presented with AME’s 2009 Canadian Regional Excellence Award in October for achieving high levels of enterprise excellence over the past three years.

DG core manufacturing at Cogent Power in Burlington, Ont. Note the lean 5S housekeepingstation.
Photo: COGENT POWER

“Within the past five years, the company’s leaders and employees have made tremendous achievements, including growing sales from $34.7 million to more than $120 million [in 2008], and are successfully transitioning to a lean culture,” said Ralph Keller, president of the AME, a not-for-profit association focused on continuous improvement and enterprise excellence.

Cogent, one of eight award recipients, has been achieving excellence since 2004 when it began a lean journey at its 125,000 square-foot Burlington plant where 200 people are employed. It’s not about lean transformation as a series of initiatives and programs, but rather creating a culture and continuous improvement mindset among all employees, says Ron Harper, president of Cogent, part of the strip product division of European steel company Corus (which is owned by Tata Steel, the world’s sixth largest steel producer).

This required putting a lot of effort into projects applying lean principles and tools, which achieved a significant reduction of its internal work in progress.

“Today our work in process is the lowest it has been during my time with the company, which is 15 years; even though 10 years ago we had one-tenth of the sales,” says Harper.

Training and mind set
An enormous amount of effort has gone into training and shifting everyones’ minds around continuous improvement and the basic principles of the Toyota Production System. About three kaizen events are staged each month and an active progressive idea generating system is maintained, with improved communications that ensure everyone is heading in the right direction at the right time and at the right pace.