LMJ travels to sunny Florida for the 2014 Association of Manufacturing Excellence (AME) conference in Jacksonville.

The AME conference is one of the largest gatherings of lean and continuous improvement experts and those keen to learn, anywhere in the world.

The 2014 conference at the Hyatt Regency hotel, in beautiful Jacksonville was no exception. 1800 delegates, and nearly 60 exhibitor stands meant that there was plenty to see and plenty of networking opportunities and ways to learn from all corners of the lean world.

Barbara Allen, the new president of AME, who’s been in the job just five weeks, spoke of the conference’s theme this year of “success through people powered excellence” at a first-time attendee’s orientation meeting.

Exhibitior stand at the AME conference.

As well as the conference itself, one of the week’s best learning opportunities came from the tours organised of local lean thinking businesses and institutes. LMJ tagged along to a tour of the world famous Mayo Clinic. One of the three campuses of the elite private hospital spread around the US, the Jacksonville branch specialises mostly toward geriatric care. The hospital, with over 150 years of history, has an ideology of ‘co-operation and ingenuity’.

The leaning of the hospital was a huge undertaking but has seen results; originally there was hesitance and reluctance at the mammoth task. One consultant raised the idea of lowering the rates of infection in the hospital to 0%. This was derided as impossible and that infections in hospital were seen as “the cost of doing business in a hospital”. The goal however was achieved. Other success stores from the hospital included the nutrition department that was able to massively expand, even adding a new floor, without having to add new staff, simply by cutting acts such as unnecessary paperwork no one used or required the multiple duplications of.

The tour was split into the three areas: the general nursing area in the wards, the pharmacy and the R&D simulation area that was specially built for the hospital and covers two floors.

The nursing area mostly benefits from pre-shift huddles where all news and developments can be discussed by the entire team at work that day on the ward. It’s been a boon for the team and has led to a higher interaction and boosted staff morale.

However, the most stunning part of the hospital was the simulation area where medical staff came to inventors with problems. They then then created a solution, a prototype or programme to fix this. The simulation suite has some world leading technology and fits in well into the ideas of continuous improvement-go to the rot of a problem and figure out a way to fix it, increase productivity and create a more harmonious and better flowing workplace.

Welcome to AME Jax.

These creations include a bed that has computer programmes that enable it to speak dozens of languages (thereby putting an end to the time consuming practice of having to put a call out for any hospital staff who happened to speak the patient’s language), could weigh the patients in bed, and provided short, informative videos that taught the patients about any prospective procedures they were going to have performed on them. Other inventions included a dummy fitted out with a hosepipe and valve from a homewares shop that expertly recreated the cardiovascular system for junior doctors to experiment new techniques on. All in all, an amazing hospital which fully integrates the ideas of lean into its workings.

Back at the conference, key note speakers such as Erik Wahl (a graffiti artist) and Janet Lapp (a psychologist and former nurse) spoke of the ideas stepping outside the comfort zone and embracing new ideas, and learning to change, respectively. Both speakers left the crowd in the grand ballroom pumped and excited to do more.

The second day’s speakers included leadership expert Cheryl Cran, who spoke on the skills gap and the problem of finding good talent in a limited pool of applicants, and lean practioner and industry leader, Jerry Bussell, who gave a rousing talk on influencers that was received with applause by the crowd who were captivated by him and his easy going story telling style.

The value stream sessions were split into six streams: engaged people, systematic daily improvement, innovation, extended enterprise, sustainability and achieving business results. Each one of these sessions was presented by an industry practioner and aimed at a variety of levels. They included Britain’s own Suzanne Nuttall, of Bury St Edmunds-based Dalehead Foods, a meat processing firm, who has written for LMJ in the past.

The conference is not just important for hearing and encouraging learning from the experts, but also as a great way of newcomers to lean to meet and discuss their ideas with old hands as well as for those further down their continuous improvement journey to share best practice and new ideas with fellow enthusiasts. The conference has a buzz as something more akin to a high school reunion, as old friends who come back year after year, reminisce and share success stories of implementation and innovation.

It’s easy to see why this conference attracts the best in continuous improvement from around the globe, and after 30 years is still going from strength to strength.