Using Lean to add value, achieve operational experience

Lean manufacturing can be measured for operational excellence in three ways to ensure manufacturers are getting the most efficiency and engagement from their workers and machines


There are three common ways to measure the impact of Lean on operational excellence. The first is whether or not manufacturing sites are operating at world-class levels, which is often measured by attributes such as on-time delivery against published lead times. The second is to measure against cost efficiency metrics, such as productivity or the cost of scrap. Last, but most important, is engagement. This includes things such as how involved employees are in helping drive continuous improvement ideas and participating in Kaizen events and action workouts.

Many times in the Lean journey, teams move through a methodology on projects, deliver improvements, and move on to the next project. Six Sigma gives us the control phase to maintain changes for improvements, but even with that, it can be difficult to keep delivering benefits because the control phase itself can break down. Once momentum gets lost on the project, people can revert to their former processes that include waste—or teams may need to make necessary changes and inadvertently add waste back into processes.

By maintaining automated control over a process with computerized systems, manufacturers have a much better chance of reducing their waste in the long term. 

Enabling Lean and Lean Six-Sigma

One of the key steps in Lean is the identification of which steps add value and which do not. By classifying all the process activities into these two categories, it is then possible to start preserving value with less wok. Waste reduction is an effective way to increase profitability by reducing costs.

It is hard to discuss Lean and waste reduction without calling out the seven types of waste, easily remembered by the acronym TIMWOOD.

  • Transport: moving products that are not actually required to perform the processing
  • Inventory: all components, work in process, and finished product not being processed
  • Motion: people or equipment moving or walking more than is required to perform the processing
  • Waiting: waiting for the next production step
  • Overproduction: production ahead of demand
  • Over processing: resulting from poor tool or product design creating activity
  • Defects: the effort involved in inspecting for and fixing defects.

Many Lean initiatives start by looking at manual processes and defining them. Often, this exercise is the first time that a process is defined, documented, and analyzed. Right away, teams can see benefits from this exercise as obvious areas of waste can be immediately eliminated. The exercise takes time, as it is a manual process, but can be worthwhile because it drives good benefit.

As teams continue along the Lean journey, they start to roll out processes more broadly and develop spreadsheets to help execute processes and report on them. However, process modifications start to peak, and eventually teams see erosion begin to take place. People can go back to their old way of performing tasks without new processes being enforced. The value realized starts to decline, and leadership may move on to another type of improvement initiative.

However, the lifecycle of Lean projects and initiatives can continue to deliver value for the long term through manufacturing execution systems (MES) or computerized systems used in manufacturing that work in real time to enable the control of multiple elements of the production process (e.g., inputs, personnel, machines, and support services).

MES helps create efficient and high-quality manufacturing processes by providing real-time operational insight into a plant’s performance and information at a single source. These digital capabilities support Lean and Lean Six Sigma efforts in the following ways:

  • Graphically define and document work processes, making it much easier to start the Lean journey
  • Find and eliminate the non-value-add activities more quickly and easily
  • Execute work processes through a controlled, electronic system—ensuring that processes are followed
  • Improve processes in real time, not “after the fact”
  • Automatically capture, store, and analyze production data, closing the loop for continuous improvement
  • Digitize the control plan and its execution
  • Keep process improvements consistent, so projects keep adding value. 

To ensure we don’t let waste and inefficiencies creep back, IT technologies and digitization are important components to ensure we achieve sustained and scalable change. Standard work processes become embedded into the plant system, which can take Lean initiatives to the next level. With true standard work and an electronic environment for Kaizen, momentum remains high, waste is eliminated, and work processes are monitored—and the gains grow year after year.

Vince Campisi is CIO of GE Intelligent Platforms. 

GE Intelligent Platforms is a CSIA member as of 3/5/2015

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