Introducing lean manufacturing tools and techniques

Lean manufacturing tools and techniques demands a mental shift among employees, steady elimination of process wastes and perfecting best operational practices.

By Bryan Christiansen June 9, 2022
Courtesy: Brett Sayles

Lean manufacturing tools and techniques solve a myriad of factory efficiency problems. Lean manufacturing is a philosophy that seeks to establish reliable manufacturing activities to minimize process and production wastes. The successful implementation of Lean tools means that companies can accomplish their business goals using few resources. It is a customer-centric approach that companies use to deliver valuable products.

Lean manufacturing is instrumental in strengthening operational excellence and asset reliability across facilities. It facilitates the reduction of manufacturing wastes, simplifies routine workflows and improves the consistency of operations. It helps standardize production activities, effectively manage production, operations and maintenance inventories, develop continuous improvement measures and create a value stream for products.

People can choose from a wide variety of Lean manufacturing tools depending on the business goals and nature of operations. In some cases, it’s advisable to implement more than one tool. The most popular Lean manufacturing tools include:

  • Kaizen (continuous improvement)

  • 5S

  • Poka Yoke

  • 7-wastes

  • Andon

  • Just-in-time

Principles of Lean manufacturing

The principles of Lean manufacturing are fundamental for improving factory efficiency. It is important to understand how these principles contribute to business success and tips for introducing them to established workflows and factory practices. The five principles of Lean manufacturing are:

  1. Specify: the value of products from a customer’s perspective.

  2. Map the value stream: identify and eliminate unnecessary or non-value-add factory activities. Focus on efforts that quicken the delivery of the right products to customers.

  3. Create a value flow: ensure valuable production activities run optimally without delays.

  4. Establish pull: streamline inventory management and the quality of work in progress. It could involve implementing a just-in-time inventory management strategy.

  5. Aim for perfection: establish a culture that encourages continuous improvement across the factory floor.

Tips for introducing Lean manufacturing tools and techniques

Implementing a Lean manufacturing program requires time to plan and execute. Improving factory efficiency requires a cultural shift at all levels of the company. It’s advisable to continuously evaluate the relevance of the adopted Lean manufacturing tools and techniques. Below are the vital tips for smoothly introducing and sustaining Lean manufacturing environment.

Eliminate process waste

Routine factory operations are awash with wasteful activities that reduce efficiency. Waste also comes in the form of defects that increase the quantity of scrap and escalate the need for rework or replacements. Overproduction, unnecessary movement or transportation, complex processes, underutilized workforce, excess inventory and long waiting times are also considered waste.

Undertake a value stream analysis to identify predominant wastes within factories. Upon performing a facility-wide waste audit, people need to identify appropriate mitigation measures and define how to create a value stream. Be proactive in identifying wastes and establish initiatives for prioritizing elimination efforts. It is impractical to believe that a company can eliminate all waste in one go.

Encourage continuous improvement

Lean manufacturing tools require Lean thinking among employees. They must understand that the successful implementation of these techniques is a collective responsibility. A company can improve efficiency by ditching reactive maintenance to establish a Lean maintenance strategy. Continuous improvement replicates in the form of short turn-around times, fewer unnecessary movements on the factory floor, better product quality and less waste.

Companies should encourage continuous improvement by authorizing employees to make independent decisions and enhance workflow improvements. Reward individuals who excel in implementing Lean manufacturing tools. Also, provide training to factory employees to sharpen their problem-solving and technical skills to ensure they get everything right the first time. It boosts employee morale and encourages them to be innovative and proactive.

Implement 5S principles and track performance

The factory floor is a beehive of activities, and a slight change in operational norms could deal a blow to the continuity of a company. Employees can easily slide to old routines and jeopardize the progress made using Lean manufacturing tools. Internalizing new operational concepts and procedures could be challenging for a section of factory employees.

Companies can minimize the confusion during the transition by organizing processes using the 5S technique.

  • Sort: eliminate any unnecessary tools, equipment or factory processes.

  • Set in order: organize essential supplies, arrange and label equipment and tools.

  • Shine: keep the factory clean always.

  • Standardize: incorporate the 5S program into the company’s standard operating procedures. Make it a regular activity.

  • Sustain: maintain all the above processes.

Companies should track the progress of the different Lean manufacturing tools to quantify if they yield acceptable results. Moreover, it’s advisable to introduce new tools to complement existing strategies that promise to support its long-term business objectives.

Summing Up

Lean manufacturing remains a powerful tool for modern factories. Its implementation does not require heavy financial or technological investment. It demands a mental shift among employees, steady elimination of process wastes and perfecting best operational practices.

Author Bio: Founder and CEO at Limble CMMS.