Other Voices: Lean manufacturing as a way to eliminate waste

With a willingness to change, managers will find how quickly the little things add up.

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Lean manufacturing principles have been around for decades. The need to eliminate waste in an operation and reduce manufacturing costs has been a fundamental goal for many.

Simply put, lean is the reduction of waste. The seven common “waste” practices consist of: transport (excess travel), inventory (excess materials), motion (excess movements), waiting (excess idle time), overprocessing (excess steps), overproduction (making too many), defects (poor quality). In the traditional manufacturing or assembly processes, these wastes are identifiable in direct labor or materials, while in the indirect labor and manufacturing supply chain, it is more difficult to recognize. In order to evaluate potential opportunities, the organization must take a step back and look at the big picture and understand where they can find these opportunities in the manufacturing supply chain.

There are many ways to take advantage of opportunities and lean an operation. The first, most common way is through specific projects. This is usually done through a Kaizen event that looks to address a specific issue and develop solutions for continuous improvement. This is usually done on an ad hoc basis, and these opportunities are limited to organizational silos. The pitfalls to this are that although it may provide improvements in one area of the operation, it lacks true visibility in other areas.

The net effect could reduce the overall operational efficiency and sub-optimize the manufacturing supply chain. Kaizen events normally rely heavily on internal personnel who may be constrained by time or resources to adequately implement solutions uncovered by these events. How many times have we seen good ideas come and go without any change or implementation?

In order to see the big picture, audits are great for identifying the low hanging fruit and are a first step in evaluating a facility. The audit takes a holistic look at the operation and identifies short-term opportunities that you can address in specific projects. You can complete the audit with internal resources, however, these have limits and often the personnel directly involved are too close to the issues to see clear opportunities. Typically, outside groups conduct these types of assessments internally or externally to the organization, as this provides for an unbiased judgment and an outside perspective on opportunities and solutions. Audits are very effective and tend to provide a to-do list with clear goals and opportunities that could produce up to a 15% to 20% improvement in the operation.

When conducting an operational audit, there are four things to consider for the greatest impact. First, consider everything. Don’t limit your scope to one area or process. Look at all aspects of the operation to include processes, material flows, inventory, raw materials and inbound/outbound logistics. Widening the scope seems arduous, but a complete picture of what’s happening gives you better insight to where the problems lie and their downstream effects.

Second, map it out. Use the tools in your toolbox to provide detailed maps of your process. Process flow charts, value stream maps and product synchronization charts are good tools to visualize the operation. Use these tools to identify the value-added and non-value-added activities and to uncover waste in the operation. It’s difficult to create a lean operation if the waste is invisible and not clearly defined.

Third, little things mean a lot. As you uncover waste or non-value-added activities, they may seem minor; however, they begin to add up to large operational savings. Simple things like reducing handling time by one minute on a task that is done 100 times a day is 100 minutes of non-value-added time that you remove from the process. You multiply that by 250 operating days, then you have saved 25,000 minutes of valuable time.

Lastly, think outside the box. Changing management is extremely difficult especially in mature operations. Challenge the conventional management thinking and don’t accept that “we’ve done it this way for 30 years.” Often times, this type of mentality pushes aside good ideas. Good ideas can come from operators and workers doing the jobs. Get input from all levels of the organization and look at all the ideas. There are many good ideas to eliminating waste that require a little effort but have long term benefits. Good things don’t come easily, but you will find savings if you look hard enough.

Brian Guistwhite has 23 years of experience in manufacturing design and process improvements and is a director with St. Onge Co. in York, Pa., assisting clients in applying lean approaches to their businesses. He welcomes your comments at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

About the Author

Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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