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Lean Manufacturing Case Study

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

kaizen and lean manufacturing compliment each other in warehouse setting

By NIST - Manufacturing Extension Partnership

Client Profile:

Mathers Controls, Inc., a private corporation founded in 1951, manufactures electronic and pneumatic propulsion controls and propeller shaft brakes for the marine industry. The company primarily focuses on supplying components throughout the world to OEMs in the boat building industry that construct vessels larger than 40 feet. A smaller, yet significant portion of business, comes from sales to distributors and individual customers in the fishing, transportation, and pleasure craft industries. Mathers Controls' offices and manufacturing facility are located in Burlington, Washington, and the company employs 52 people.


Mathers Controls' desire for growth and increased market share and revenue led the company to develop a new product line aimed at the fully electronic engine and gear control market. Aware that there were restrictions in its existing operations that could prevent it from meeting increased demand for its products, Mathers Control was on the verge of approving a more than $1 million plant expansion project. Prior to approving the project, Mathers Controls contacted Washington Manufacturing Services (WMS), a NIST MEP network affiliate, for assistance.


After touring the plant and conducting a fact-finding meeting with top management, WMS recommended that the company implement lean manufacturing as a means of increasing the capacity of the plant without costly plant expansion. The Center coordinated a lean manufacturing assessment of the plant and arranged for Mathers Controls' senior management to visit another company that had been implementing lean manufacturing over the past year.

Discussing the actual improvements and performance enhancements gained by lean manufacturing with another company's president provided Mathers Controls' management team with the assurance they needed to approve WMS' proposal to provide lean manufacturing training and implementation assistance.

By adopting lean manufacturing, Mathers Control wanted to increase the facility's overall capacity by at least 25 percent to avoid the need to expand. WMS contracted a preferred resource provider to thoroughly educate all of Mathers Controls' employees on lean manufacturing concepts, principles, guidelines, and analysis tools, and to provide the basis and framework for change. Then, identification and analysis of the company's processes followed. The employees' experience and lean manufacturing knowledge were applied to the layout design of the new facility.

The new layout design:

  • moved the entire production area next to the shipping and receiving area
  • introduced manufacturing cells that significantly reduced space requirements
  • promoted one piece flow to minimize assembly costs
  • reduced product lead-time and work-in-process (WIP)
  • lowered inventory levels, which minimized carrying costs
  • stored tools, information, raw materials, and supplies at their point of use to eliminate wasteful steps and associated costs.

With the elimination of most departmental barriers, communication was enhanced.

WMS successfully implemented the majority of the lean manufacturing processes within a six-month period and did so without the company losing more than eight hours of production while the plant equipment was relocated.

As a result of WMS' assistance, Mathers Controls reduced its production space requirements by 36 percent, which decreased capital expansion/modification costs by 78 percent since the company no longer needed to enlarge the facility. Production capacity increased by 100 percent, which allowed employees to take advantage of cross-training opportunities, while overall capacity increased by 30 percent, with future improvements anticipated. There was a 32 percent decrease in WIP and finished goods inventory, which freed up enough cash to pay for the new plant layout. And, with most of its processes simplified, Mathers Controls decreased production lead times by 50 percent and reduced internal rework by 75 percent.


  • Reduced capital expansion/modification costs by 79 percent.
  • Avoided a costly expansion project.
  • Increased production capacity by 100 percent.
  • Increased overall capacity by 30 percent.
  • Decreased WIP & finished good inventory 32 percent.
  • Decreased production lead times by 50 percent.
  • Reduced production space by 36 percent.
  • Reduced production travel distance by 88 percent.
  • Reduced internal production rework by 75 percent.
  • Enhanced company-wide communications.


"Washington Manufacturing Services (WMS) provided the insight, drive, and resources that helped us learn about and implement lean manufacturing to increase our plant's capacity and avoid our costly expansion plans. Without their persistence and experience, this lean voyage would have been drawn out and rendered ineffective. Our organization truly appreciates WMS for their guidance and resources. We will utilize this great service again!"
- Chris Larson, Vice President of Operations

Reprinted from the National Institute of Standards and Testing - Manufacturing Extension Partnership