The annual Association for Manufacturing Excellence conference was held last week in Boston. Over the past 21 years this conference has grown to be billed as the largest Lean conference in North America, and for the first time it actually sold out. AME's conferences and events are unique in that they are by practioners for practioners. With the exception of some of the keynotes, presentations and workshops are presented by actual manufacturing folks.
If I had to recommend the two must-attend events for 2006, they would be the next AME Conference in Dallas in October and the Lean Accounting Summit to be held in Orlando in September. The first Lean Accounting Summit, held last month, was also sold out and they are already seeing strong registrations for 2006. Book early (and use promo code "SFEARLYBIRD" to receive $225 off!).
Unfortunately a family medical emergency prevented me from attending last week's AME Conference, but my good friend Dave Hogg of the High Performance Manufacturing Consortium sent these notes in his latest newsletter:
For the first time in 21 years – this year’s AME International Conference was sold out. The following highlights only a few of the many things that your roving editor picked up. It was the sheer energy that stood out at this year’s largest lean Mfg. Conference in North America. Not only were records being re-written, but also blasted out was a wake-up call to anyone who understands that they have competitive challenges coming at them.
Here are some of the messages which ricocheting around Boston this week. The comments from attendees were exceptional and effusive – for example here is an actual quote given to your roving reporter’s recorder from a 4th time attendee: "This has been an incredible conference – it is my 4th AME Conference and it’s by far the best yet. I definitely recommend these for everyone in manufacturing – It is a must – an absolute must – for anyone in manufacturing that they attend. Nowhere else can you get this volume of the latest ideas; hear what is happening directly from other companies; and learn all kinds of opportunities of how other companies overcome challenges. This is a sure step forward to improving your operations. This was fantastic!”
And there were so many more that it got repetitious – What we can learn from this, is that the energy is returning to drive manufacturing further ahead to dramatically increase competitiveness. In short, US manufacturers are getting a ‘second wind’ which means great things for Canadian suppliers coupled with much challenge for those Canadian competitors who are not seeing the need to drive improvements now.
This is the first conference that has seen such grass roots and open discussion about TPS - the Toyota Production System (or the Thinking Production System if you prefer) and what it has to offer. It always did have lot to offer, but there appears to be a definite advance in its acceptance by North American mfrs just from the sheer volume of talk!
Jim Womack, the founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute and Thursday’s Keynote drew top interest of the entire week. He was in his full stride and rated as ‘spectacular’ by many who were part of the well over 1000 people jammed into the main ballroom to hear him. All standing room was taken. His message, like Lean Thinking, was simple yet profound as he wove his argument for the power that can come from understanding the entire consumption phase to the point you realize that if you don’t see yourself as the total solution provider - another competitor surely will.
Jim was scheduled for a simple and informal exchange at a “Special Interest Group” from 1:30 to 3:00 in a small room with some 30-50 people. Unfortunately, the room filled to capacity long before lunch in anticipation. In the end, this ‘small gathering’ was rescheduled to the main ballroom where it swelled quickly to some 300 people. Jim’s animated discussion – almost all Q&A - was filled with questions from operations leaders at all levels looking for genuine insights on the added advantage a ‘consumption perspective’ could yield – and they got it in spades and had to be chased from the room because of the next event taking over the facility.
I will also add that there were record pre-registrations for the AME 2006 Conference in Dallas... more registrations than conferences of only a few years ago had in total. That's a sign of hope: manufacturers are apparently realizing that Lean is the way to go, and they also realize that they need to learn from practioners who have really experienced the road to Lean.