AKRON—Lean methods long have been applied to manufacturing processes in the rubber industry. That is not the case with research and development.
Certainly it is not commonplace. That is what made Goodyear's quest to apply lean principles to its R&D processes an interesting journey.
“Lean-Driven Innovation,” a recently released book written by innovator Norbert Majerus and published by CRC Press, describes in detail the long quest to make the successful transformation to lean product development at Goodyear.
He should know. He is the master black belt and lean champion at the tire maker who spearheaded the project, starting in 2005. By education, he is a chemist.
Jean-Claude Kihn, at the time general director of the Goodyear Innovation Center in Akron who since has been promoted to head the firm's Europe, Middle East and Africa tire division, urged Majerus to experiment with some lean concepts for product development.
Majerus accepted the challenge. His goal: Create a world class R&D operation to efficiently bring more products to market faster.
A Luxembourg native who joined Goodyear in 1979 and was transferred to Akron to develop innovative products in 1983, Majerus was intrigued by the job.
“It was obvious we had to do something to respond better to the market ... we had high quality products but we were slow,” the 37-year Goodyear veteran said in a recent interview.
“There was a lot known about lean manufacturing, where the focus is more on cost. Greater speed and on-time delivery are our goals.”
Applying lean principles in an R&D setting is very new, he admitted.
“We knew Toyota was using their version of it in product development. There was also a little bit of material published on how to better use technology. But for the most part, we had to start from the ground up,” he said.