Inside ISD News

Lean Manufacturing Program Travels North

Lean Manufacturing Program Travels North

The University of Michigan College of Engineering is proud to announce that Santa's Workshop in the North Pole has been certified "Lean" after its Elves completed the Lean Manufacturing program.


Santa’s Workshop, known (almost mythically) as one of the most efficient manufacturing facilities in the world, nonetheless sought to become Leaner and eliminate waste in its production. To achieve these goals, it sought out, of course, the University of Michigan Lean Manufacturing program.

Over three separate weeks, master-Elves, production Elves, and assembly Elves participated in the program that taught the principles of Lean manufacturing, value stream mapping, cell design and analysis, factory layout and other Lean tools. Challenges included maximizing production for a workforce that is 4-foot tall and utilized old, often outdated assembly tools that completely shun automation.

University of Michigan Engineering Professors Izak Duenyas and Yavuz Bozer taught the course and were impressed with what they witnessed at the North Pole production facility.

"You have to understand the magnitude of their manufacturing facility," said Duenyas. "It is the biggest plant in the world and the Elves are hard-working and productive. Having said that, even the most efficient Elves in the North Pole could benefit from learning how to be 'Lean,'" added Duenyas.

Not surprisingly, the Elves were efficient in many areas of production, including how to conduct capacity analysis to identify and alleviate bottlenecks. But there were still ways to improve as Duenyas noted that the Elves learned that the Design of Pull was better suited for its production, than a "push" system. "I taught them the disadvantages of an inventory based system (higher costs, harder to control etc.) compared with a "pull system" and its production control methods."

The successful completion of the course was proof that even the most sophisticated and efficient production facilities in the world can be improved through the tenants of Lean Manufacturing taught by University of Michigan instructors, the Leaders and Best.

While the Elves benefited from the Lean training through improved manufacturing principles, the Lean instructors were also enriched by the cultural experience of staying at the North Pole for several weeks.

Bozer was somewhat disappointed he did not get to witness the distribution of the toys on Christmas Eve, but he understands some organizations need to protect trade secrets.

"Logistically, it is the most impressive feat anywhere. To load and distribute toys to children all over in the world in one night requires precision and dedication. I really wanted to watch it unfold but, understandably, they need to protect their methods otherwise UPS and FedEx would steal their concepts."

The North Pole hospitality was on full display during their stay as each instructor was housed in a colorful (but small) cottage made from gingerbread. Duenyas did note the beds were a bit small and catering could have been improved. "Over the course of a week, you can only eat so many candy canes and cookies for lunch and every time I asked for tea I got hot chocolate instead."

Bozer noted the comfort level in the plant was unexpected. "I was amazed that we were never cold. It is freezing outside and there is tons of snow, and I could not locate a boiler or a heating system of any kind, and yet it was warm in the factory," said Bozer.

The most often asked question posed to Duenyas and Bozer regarding their time in the North Pole was, of course, if they saw or spent time with Santa Claus?

Both instructors were tight-lipped about their experience with the man in the red suit, noting they signed non-disclosure agreements and are bound to secrecy and photography was prohibited. But both admitted that the spirit of Santa Claus is present at all times in the North Pole, even in his absence.

Lean Manufacturing is offered multiple times throughout the year, both in Ann Arbor and in Oak Brooke, Illinois. Upon completion of three weeks of instruction (and after passing the exams) participants will receive a Master Certificate in Lean Manufacturing. Contact us to learn how your production facility can get on the path to Lean and (try) to become as efficient as Santa's Workshop in the North Pole. Click here to register for a Lean Manufacturing course.