Crown Material Handling Equipment I had a fascinating visit to Crown Equipment in New Bremen, Ohio–just down the road from my home in Sidney. I’ve known about the company for many years. Know some people who work there. But I have had little professional contact with it–or with the material handling industry in general–for a long time.

The thing is, it fits perfectly with much of the argument put forward in Pisano and Shih’s Producing Prosperity, which I reviewed here.

The visit encompassed three entirely different arenas, all of which were fascinating–manufacturing, design process and the future of material handling.

First, manufacturing. Pisano and Shih discuss the need for a “commons” as a requirement for optimum innovation. Unlike the idea that became a fad in the 90s and later that held that manufacturing was of little importance and that rather design was the only innovation area, the commons argument is that manufacturing is an integral part of the innovation process. Gathering designers, design engineers, production engineers and others into the development process is the best way for an enterprise to create innovation.

Crown epitomizes this process. On the manufacturing side, it is highly vertically integrated. Thanks to VP Manufacturing Operations Dave Beddow and Director of Manufacturing Dave Tumbusch for an overview and tour of manufacturing. The company is not dependent upon a variety of suppliers for innovation and quality. Parts are designed and manufactured along with the design and assembly of the finished product–forklifts and other pallet moving equipment. Evidence of a long-standing commitment to Lean manufacturing and continuous improvement were everywhere.

Further, all the various manufacturing areas are represented on product development project teams early on in the product design cycle. Part of the innovation is design and part is the ability to manufacture the product profitably and another part is the usability experience of its customers. Design VP Mike Gallagher walked me through the thoroughly thought-out design process. Great to catch up with the latest design, research and product development thinking.

Industry Week has named Crown as one of the two best examples of vertical integration in the country.

Finally, in a conversation that I cannot report in detail, I met with Senior VP Tim Quellhorst and Product Development Director Lew Manci in a free-wheeling discussion of the future of material handling and warehouse management. They certainly opened my eyes to new possibilities–especially as I lay the groundwork for my new project–The Manufacturing Connection.

There is no way I can adequately convey the passion of all the executives for the company, their products, manufacturing and design and their customers. A real gem of a company nestled just under my nose, so to speak.

If you are attending the MESA Conference or the Industry Week Best Plants Conference in a couple of weeks in Greenville, SC, stop in for a presentation from Crown. You’ll be glad you did.

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