June 2, 2020

Overcoming the Challenges of Implementing a Lean Manufacturing Model

The lean manufacturing model, most usually known simply as ‘lean’, centres primarily on the elimination of waste from the production process.

So, what is defined as ‘waste’? Waste consists of any activity that does not add customer value. Research conducted by the Lean Enterprise Research Centre has actually found that an astonishing 60% of typical production operations were waste by this definition.

The ideal model for any manufacturing facility is to consider a shift to flow manufacturing. This, however, is a process that will take significant planning, time, and resources to implement. It should be done, but it needs to be carefully orchestrated. In the meantime, however, there are other strategies you can begin implementing now, which will assist you in streamlining your manufacturing activity, and eliminating costly waste.

One Step At A Time

As with anything, a wise course of action is to take things one step at a time. Work day to day, identifying one problem and fixing it per day. This way, you begin a path of small, incremental wins that eventually add up to significant improvements over time.

Gather information direct from the plant floor to identify your losses.

  • What are our top five sources of downtime this shift?
  • How many units ahead or behind are we for this shift?

Review these losses, and work with your team to identify the biggest loss and earliest potential win.

  • Which of these sources will be easiest to attack?
  • What factor is stopping us from hitting our target most?

From there, agree one particular action that can be undertaken during the shift to reduce loss straightaway.

  • What action can we take right now to attack this?
  • What action can we take to improve this preventative factor right now?

Implementing Kaizen

Kaizen (trans. “Change for better”) is a Japanese business philosophy that has proven itself instrumental time and again in improving business practices. It centres around the continuous, ongoing improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, and so on.

The Kaizen philosophy ties in strongly with the principles of lean manufacturing, facilitating the latter through adherence to the former.

In Kaizen, employees at every level of a company work together proactively with the aim of making these daily, incremental improvements outlined above. It is part action plan, part philosophy.

Action Plan: Kaizen is about organising events with the focus of improving different areas within a company. These events include employee teams at all levels, and most particularly those on the plant floor.

Philosophy: Philosophically, Kaizen involves the building of a culture wherein all employees are actively engaged in suggesting and implementing improvements. Over time, this becomes the true ‘lean’ model, as the notion becomes a natural way of thinking across the company, from management to the plant floor.

When applied as an action plan that is consistent and sustained as a program of successful events, over time it teaches employees to think differently about their work. As such, it creates a more cohesive, positive culture, wherein everybody is focused on continuing improvement of the business, creating significant long-term value.

What Are Kaizen Events?

A Kaizen event is more of a PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check and Act). Typically, this process may look like this:

Plan

  1. Set goals, providing any necessary background
  2. Review the current state and develop improvement plans

Do

  1. Implement those improvements

Check and Act

  1. Review, then fix what doesn’t work
  2. Report on results, and determine any items requiring further follow-up

Kanban Manufacturing

Another aspect to creating a lean manufacturing system is the ability to eliminate waste and maximise efficiency on the production line itself.

Kanban is, like Kaizen, a Japanese business strategy, but is focused less on the business as a whole, and more specifically within manufacturing.

Kanban was devised as a scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. One of its major benefits is that it establishes an upper limit to the work in progress (WIP) inventory, which avoids overloading the manufacturing system.

Essentially, Kanban aligns inventory levels with actual consumption on a production line. When material is consumed, a signal is sent to suppliers requesting new shipments. These signals are tracked, which allows suppliers, consumers and buyers all to see the replenishment cycle in action. Thus, it become easier to monitor and modify for optimal efficiency.

The Kanban ‘pull’ functionality (processes driven by demand, rather than the ‘push’ function of mass production that stockpiles product) aligns the Kanban system with flow manufacturing.

For businesses beginning to consider the move to a more efficient, flow manufacturing model, integrating the Kanban system will likely be beneficial.

To Conclude

Kaizen, Kanban and lean manufacturing together are well-recognised for their strong benefits to efficiency and company culture. Seeking to improve our businesses, our employees, and ourselves through an ongoing assessment of performance is, undoubtedly, key to improved success across the board.

Future proofing the company as we move into an increasingly digital and automated age should be at the forefront of every business owner’s mind. It is time for a revolution in the way we manufacture, and these strategies are ones used by leading companies across the globe.

It may feel like a challenge to begin overhauling the way that your company has been working for many years. That is why we advise starting small, with the incremental changes we have outlined above. These changes represent a crucial path to meeting the next evolutionary step for manufacturing, which is already on our doorstep.