For many manufacturing companies, technology seems to help with improvements in a variety of areas, including quality, on-time delivery, reduction in part costs, and much more. However, technology can only get you so far. If you do not embrace lean manufacturing practices, you will never reap the full benefits of the technology or systems you are implementing. In short, lean manufacturing is as relevant today as it was when it first came into manufacturing.
It is hard to say exactly when lean manufacturing started. However, Taiichi Ohno, a Japanese industrial engineer, is universally credited as the Father of Lean. Early on, Ohno realized there is waste in every operation. He made it his goal to eliminate waste from the manufacturing process.
He identified eight types of waste:
Defect—Making bad parts or products.
Over production—Making more than needed. Single piece flow versus batch manufacturing.
Waiting—Not having materials or parts when needed.
Non-utilized talent—Not having everyone working on continuous improvement.
Travel—Walking and searching for things.
Inventory—Carrying more inventory than needed.
Motion—Not having needed things at one’s fingertips.
Excess processing—Doing unnecessary work or more work than the customer requires.
Lean manufacturing focuses on eliminating these eight types of waste from not only the shop floor, but the office as well. Every area and department within a plant has waste. Being truly lean requires incorporating lean practices in all areas of the business.
Over the years, engineers and others have developed tools and systems to help manufacturers identify and remove waste. Some of these tools and methods have become buzzwords, like “Lean Six Sigma,” “Toyota Production System,” and “Lean Black Belt.”
To become a lean manufacturing company, you need to be willing to embrace a company culture of continuous change. This includes employee engagement and empowerment. If you do not foster employee engagement and empowerment, your lean journey will not give you the desired results. Management needs to be 100% committed to implementing and embracing lean, otherwise it will not happen. Lean is not a top-down process and cannot function if it is implemented from the bottom up. It requires acceptance and ongoing support throughout the company.
So, where do you start with your lean process?
Get your team on board and explain to everyone what lean is and why your company is starting the journey of becoming a lean manufacturer.
Communicate to all that lean has no finish line. It is an ongoing process of continuous improvement, and it is everyone’s responsibility to identify and work to eliminate waste.
Start with small groups or areas, and train your entire staff.
Start at the basics:
6S is the base that helps create the habit of consistency, teamwork, and best practices. It consists of the following:
Safety—Always priority number 1.
Sort—Remove all items not needed to perform the task (sell off or donate).
Straighten—Place items to maximize efficiencies.
Standardize—Set a standard for consistent workplace organization.
Sustain—Maintain and review standards.
Japanese for “change for the better,” Kaizen aims to improve efficiencies by reducing waste. It should be done by everyone, every day. Kaizen is the foundation of continuous improvement.
Value stream mapping (VSM)
VSM is a visual tool used to map a process or operation. It will show you the current state of your process(s), including waste, non-value-added times, and opportunities. This is a key step and should drive your improvement plans and Kaizens.
Pull versus push manufacturing
Switching from push to pull manufacturing is a key transformation to lean. This will eliminate overproduction, give you a visual of what is happening on the shop floor, reduce work in progress (WIP), and improve quality and on-time delivery.
Poka-yoke or error proving
Error proving is the key to reducing scrap and rework. When an area of concern is identified, you need to find the root cause and implement a permanent solution. The problem is likely to resurface if only the symptom is addressed.
Use a combination of tools to truly find the root cause:
5 Whys—Ask why it happened a minimum of 5 times (you can ask more).
Fishbone or Ishikawa diagram—Also known as cause and effect diagram.
DMAIC—Define, measure, analyze, improve, and control are components of a key tool within the Six Sigma lean approach.
PDCA—Plan, do, check, and act.
FMEA—Failure mode effect analysis.
Inventory management, cost saving
Vendor managed inventory (VMI).
The above list is by no means a complete road map to becoming a lean manufacturing company. However, it gives you some of the key tools and requirements, as well as ideas on where to start with lean.
I cannot overemphasize the need for understanding that lean is not a practice or tool you can use once or that you should use to justify layoffs or restructuring. Lean is a philosophy of removing all unnecessary steps and waste within manufacturing and focuses on doing only what the customer is willing to pay for.
I hope you see the benefits of adopting the lean philosophy. Why not start your own lean journey today?