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Successful Implementations in Lean

Certificate Program Helps Thermadyne Employees Become Lean Leaders

By Karen Myhaver, Outreach Specialist, MassMEP

Greg’s Balch’s first experience with the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NH MEP) was when he was invited to attend one of their public Lean events. The Vice President of Operations at Thermadyne in Lebanon, NH, participated in a TimeWise LE102 which combines classroom work and hands-on simulation to give participants basic knowledge of Lean concepts, tools, and terms as they apply in a Job Shop environment. At that time, many New Hampshire SME’s did not have the people or finances to invest in large, on-site Lean initiatives and would benefit from sharing training costs and facilities. John Simpson, then the Economic Development Coordinator for the state of NH, encouraged NH MEP to collaborate with New Hampshire Community Technical College and come up with a curriculum which could meet the Lean training needs of the state’s small to medium sized manufacturers.

Creating In-House Lean Leaders
NH MEP and New Hampshire Community Technical College (NHCTC) – Claremont, developed a comprehensive Lean educational program to help companies who were working on their Lean transformation create in-house Lean leaders and facilitators to drive and sustain change and improvements.

The result, the Lean Enterprise Certification Program, is a comprehensive, nine-credit educational curriculum which includes twenty-one (21) eight-hour courses, designed to simulate shop floor and office work environments and use hands-on experience to demonstrate the benefits of becoming a Lean enterprise. Students participate in simulated real-life work challenges and learn to implement Lean principles to improve corporate wide efficiencies and enhance profitability. The program combines classroom instruction, workshop simulations, and case studies, in order to provide participants with the concepts, tools, and methodologies needed in a Lean enterprise-wide transformation. After completing this Lean training, participants can champion efforts and lead events within their own companies.

The program includes: Time Wise LE101 (basic Lean training), Value Stream Mapping, 5s and Kaizen Methodology, Set-up Reduction, Cell Design, Pull System and Total Preventive Maintenance, Lean Accounting, Six Sigma, Project Management, Supply Chain, and Building Successful Lean Teams. 

Integrating Lean Knowledge
Thermadyne got involved in the Lean Enterprise Training Program and the Lean Certificate Program because Greg and many in management knew enough about Lean to recognize that it was a valuable culture for them to adopt — they were ready. They hoped to use their new skills to build a good foundation and establish a common ground so all employees could speak the same language and think about things in a similar way.

Anita Porter, Thermadyne HR Manager was very pleased with the program and referred to it as the "Kick off" for their Lean journey. She mentioned that the class of 30 was cross-functional and represented hourly employees, management, engineering, and HR so the company could integrate Lean knowledge throughout the employee population.

State Grant Award Helps Fund Lean Training
Greg Balch felt that the program went very well. "The instructors were very good," he said. "NH MEP’s Linda Ellis and Jane T. Ely are terrific and every interaction has been a pleasure. Charley Lincicum and Kevin Smith, project managers from Massachusetts MEP were brought in to do some of the training and get very high marks! We [Thermadyne] are glad we participated in the classes and would definitely do so again."

Of the many courses they took, Greg’s group felt that the Time Wise LE101 (basic Lean concepts) training was the most beneficial — so much so that Thermadyne applied for, and was awarded a $15,000 training grant from the state of New Hampshire to help fund Time Wise LE101 training for 120 hourly employees.

The response was off the charts! Feedback was that it was the best training they had ever attended. This also meant that they had achieved their goal of having everyone understand what Thermadyne and those who had attended the certificate classes was trying to accomplish with their Lean initiatives. Greg feels that the training was also instrumental in helping everyone understand one piece flow.

Maryann McEwen who is Manager of New Product Introduction at the plant and a student in the Lean Enterprise program stated, "Prior to taking this Lean certificate program, I had heard of Lean but had zero knowledge. Now I have facilitated the introduction of a new line of plasma cutters in two phases including several sales release dates. First, I led a VSM (value stream mapping) on this process and that is where we collected all the information that we went by."

"The implementation team led by Maryann and Ron Jones [Senior Supervisor and another program participant] utilized lots of Lean concepts  like Cellular manufacturing, Point of use Storage (POUS), and Kanban, which helped tremendously in making the product line introduction successful," said Greg Balch.

Event Facilitation Becomes Part of Performance Review
After the training, Maryann felt much more competent and was happy that the training was tied in with the NHCTC and offered college credit. She stated, "I was there (at the training) for the experience and for any kind of knowledge I could gain from it and I certainly got what I needed. Since the training, Greg has mandated that each of the training attendees must facilitate four events every year which will become part of their employee performance review. This is his way of showing how seriously they are taking Lean at Thermadyne!"

Thermadyne has seen excellent sales, a competitive cost base, and tremendous reliability with this product launch.
Due to a combination of on-site project work with NH MEP, the training that 30 employees received as part of the Lean Enterprise Certificate program, and the successful launch of a new product line, Thermadyne has seen very positive results. Information that was gathered during a Value Stream Map and the brainstorming that resulted from that event assisted in determining optimum flow.

"The new product that was launched utilizing the Lean manufacturing training has been a huge success," said Balch. "Thermadyne has seen excellent sales, a competitive cost base, and tremendous reliability with this product launch. Lean has now become part of the culture here. It has become the way people think. We still have challenges and plenty of improvement opportunities, but, culturally, we have made tremendous progress. It has become part of our day to day subconscious to think Lean!"

Benefits of Lean Enterprise Certificate Program
"The partnership with NHCTC [for the Lean Enterprise Certificate Program] has given us the opportunity to bring several different companies together in one location," said NH MEP’s Linda Ellis. "It gives the smaller SME’s, which make up most of New Hampshire’s manufacturing base, an avenue to receive top class training that may previously have been out of reach as they can now share costs among several participating companies. The students also get the benefit of interacting with people from other businesses who are going through the same process and the college affiliation provides participating employees with college credit, another benefit the employers like to offer."

Fundamental Change in Way People Think
Having employee leaders who have been trained through the Lean Certificate Program and completing projects in conjunction with NH MEP has resulted in ongoing Lean activities throughout the plant. These activities have significantly contributed to cost savings and improved customer satisfaction at Thermadyne.

"The company [Thermadyne] has had a very positive relationship with NH MEP’s Jane T. Ely, Linda Ellis, and Dave Hess," adds Balch. "They provided an excellent foundation and basic training to our employees. Lean is not something you do and then be done with. It is a culture and process, not a project with a beginning and end. NH MEP provided ongoing support and helped us build our foundation. This was done very effectively and has led to a fundamental change in the way people think here."

Company Background
Thermal Dynamics is the name of a plasma cutting product line that this company has been manufacturing here since the late 1950’s. The company itself, which has facilities worldwide is called Thermadyne and is a leading global manufacturer and marketer of cutting and welding products and accessories. At their manufacturing and design center in Lebanon, New Hampshire Thermadyne employs 276 people.


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