Smith-Midland proves Lean Manufacturing concept in J-J Hooks barrier production

As team leaders, Raul Franco (right) and Cesar Montiel convene the “daily huddle” to review and audit barrier production shift metrics. Huddle and visual management techniques have lowered manhours per barrier and reduced defects in finished products.


They are called the Águilas Verdes (Green Eagles), a small team of Smith-Midland associates who oversee production of one of the company’s core offerings, the J-J Hooks highway safety barrier.

Precast concrete safety barriers have been produced in the Midland, Va., plant since the late 1970s. In that time millions of linear feet of barrier have been shipped. Various attempts had been made over the years to standardize the production process, with varying degrees of success. In the late spring of 2016, the Águilas Verdes team was formed to create a “model cell” and make the final push to bring the barrier casting standards to a world-class level.

Model cell is an improvement technique of the Lean Manufacturing philosophy, where the focus is to establish an “island of perfection,” within the plant. It defines a manufacturing process between a specific starting and stopping point, then guides team members to track, quantify, and work together to improve each step. As each issue is identified, closer examination of causes and solutions are discussed, decisions made, actions taken, and then reexamined. The J-J Hooks model cell was defined from the point the concrete mix was delivered from the on-site batch plant until the barrier had been inspected for the second time and sent to the storage yard.

The first step of a model cell is to apply the basic Lean principal of 5S. This is a systematic improvement process engaging the team in the acts of sorting, straightening, shining, standardizing and sustaining a highly organized and clean workspace. The ongoing success of the model cell is achieved by using two techniques: the “daily huddle” and “visual management.” In the former, team members gather in front of a metric board containing an array of visual statistical data to audit the current status of their efforts. Every barrier poured (of the average 50 per day) is recorded and scored in areas including safety, quality, man hours applied, materials used and targeted delivery schedules kept.

Anomalies, successes and failures are easily seen using the visual management techniques. Solutions are discussed, and action plans devised using proven problem solving measures. Some of the issues expose systematic weaknesses within the larger company leading into the cell’s process, or supporting or following it. Issues are discussed with management, which in turn makes needed adjustments or designates new teams to solve them. One model cell can have multiple positive impacts on the processes of other departments and management teams, Smith-Midland management finds, affecting the overall success of the organization.


A recent installation demonstrates improvements in J-J Hooks barrier surface characteristics attributable to adoption of lean manufacturing methods.

Within just a few weeks of starting the model cell, a vast array of improvements began to take shape at Smith-Midland. The concrete mix was tested and adjusted, and mold improvements were made, greatly decreasing barrier surface quality issues. Tools and techniques were changed, allowing for one less operation needed in the process and fewer materials. Barrier defects were soon reduced from 68 percent to 15 percent; manhours per barrier decreased 14 percent.

The barrier model cell is an ongoing Lean process that will continue to eliminate waste, increase production, and ultimately benefit the company, team members and customers, Smith-Midland officials affirm. In addition to leaders Cesar Montiel and Raul Franco, they credit the J-J Hooks model cell success to team members including Will Guevara, Victor Garcia, David Rodriguez, Javier Mares, Miguel Humana, Carlos Canãs, and Eduardo Portillo.


The J-J Hooks assembly proves it mettle at the Texas Transportation Institute, College Station.