How lean manufacturing is transforming Potain crane production in China

Over the last few years, the Manitowoc factory in Zhangjiagang, China, has implemented the principles of The Manitowoc Way, improving its manufacturing quality and delivering even more reliable, high performance cranes. We look at some of the changes that were made to produce that success.



Manitowoc has a long history of manufacturing in China that stretches back several decades. It opened its latest factory in Zhangjiagang in 2006 and since then, the local team has been manufacturing a full line of Potain tower cranes at the plant. Among the 19 crane models built in Zhangjiagang are topless cranes, hammerhead cranes and luffing as well as hydraulic luffing cranes.


With a production space of over 56,000 m2 (602,779 ft2), the Zhangjiagang site was one of the most advanced tower crane factories in the world when it opened and over the past couple of years the location has gone through another reincarnation, this time through the implementation of The Manitowoc Way.


Launched in 2016, The Manitowoc Way uses the fundamentals of lean manufacturing, rapid new product development and superior after-sales service to ensure customer satisfaction levels remain at their peak.


To bring lean manufacturing to Zhangjiagang, the team in China made a series of changes to the layout, process and equipment at the factory. At its heart, lean manufacturing is about minimizing waste during the production process and increasing productivity by keeping a clean and well-organized work environment. “Velocity and innovation are at the heart of our way of working, and you can see this throughout the Zhangjiagang facility,” said Brian Wang, Manitowoc Senior Vice President, Asia-Pacific. “The principles of The Manitowoc Way have helped us deliver continuous improvement.”



To transform the manufacturing process, the team in Zhangjiagang has introduced dozens of improvements over the past four years. Here are just three examples:


Transforming the production floor:

  • The team in Zhangjiagang worked on reorganizing the production floor. Thanks to the creation of a new layout, components now travel 2.5 km (1.6 mi) less around the factory floor than they did previously. This also helped free up 4,500 m2 (48,438 ft2) of space. The site also improved the production line for jibs with new robotic welding machines and a new line to build C Mast sections.


Reorganizing the warehouse:

  • The team restructured the warehouse to improve material management and movement, to achieve a more convenient flow. The result is approximately 500 m2 (5,382 ft2) of extra space and a reduction of the travel distance for parts. For example, storage of cabs has been moved to a different area within the warehouse. With the adjustment in the production line, it has now been possible to store the cabs right next to the production stage where they are assembled on the crane.


Updating the paint booth:

  • To reduce energy costs and cycle time, the Zhangjiagang site made improvements in the paint shop. Rearranging the painter shifts into three groups and integrating all processes in one paint booth has led to an increase in use rates. The predicted power savings with the changes are around 600 kW per day and the team expects to save around $21,000 annually.



While impressive, these are just a few of the improvements that have been made, all in the name of building higher quality, more reliable Potain cranes that continue to lead the market. But the work doesn’t stop here. Following The Manitowoc Way means focusing on continuous improvement, and for the team at Zhangjiagang that means it’s on to the next thing.

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