Lean manufacturing is a systematic method aimed at improving production efficiency. It does so by reducing waste without affecting quality. Lean methodologies are considered successful for companies, and implementing them can bring major advantages.

Transitioning to lean manufacturing is not immediate. However, it requires the company to equip itself with specific tools and methodologies, and for management to acquire new skills and approaches.

Hence, we try to analyze three fundamental best practices for great results.

1. Identify waste

An essential element of lean manufacturing is waste reduction. However, it is first of all essential to identify waste prior to eliminating it.

Divide waste into the 7 categories identified by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Japanese TPS philosophy, based on their "DOWNTIME" acronym:

  • Defect: a production defect may require fixing a product, or worse, destroying it. This is one of the most obvious and costly causes of waste.
  • Overproduction: this can cause various waste including lack of raw materials for other productions, wasted warehouse space and, above all, hours of work and energy. Even more, is the risk of finding obsolete products in stock if a buyer cannot be found.
  • Waiting: the most immediate source of waiting is production downtime due to machine failure. Delays, however, can have many origins, including the lack of raw materials, machine processing of a piece, etc.
  • Not using people's talents: the skills of each employee must be valued to ensure that the company grows as quickly as possible.
  • Transportation: product and material transport from the warehouse or between various production departments.
  • Inventory: inventory contributes to wasted space, materials, and resources.
  • Motion: includes every type of movement in the company, including vehicles, tools, and people.
  • Excess processing: any work that does not involve an increase in the functionality of the product needs to be eliminated as waste.

 

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2. Continuous improvement

Improving production efficiency is not done through radical reorganizations or large-scale investments but through the cumulative effect of small incremental steps to progressively eliminate any waste. This is the Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement, and it is an essential aspect of lean manufacturing.

Seeking continual product and process improvement is a task that must be undertaken by all company members, from managers to workers. Everyone is responsible and involved in this process that requires a vertical exchange of ideas and proposals to improve production efficiency.

Kaizen has 4 fundamental steps:

  • establish improvement priorities;
  • standardize specifications and processes;
  • perform measurements;
  • improve.

Improvement must rely on an attentive analysis of the current situation and of the desired standards. Each objective has an appropriate, corresponding indicator in assessing the degree of achievement.

These steps guide the company in an iterative and continuous process in search of ever greater production efficiency.

3. Order and organize

Increase productivity while improving quality and safety. The 5S Method meets these challenges.

Focusing on order, organization, standardization, and cleaning allows, in five steps, to increase the productivity of processes in every business area—not only in the production chain but also in the offices and management.

  1. Analyze the work environment to keep only what is essential for the performed activity.
  2. Rearrange and fix everything that is useful by favoring a non-aesthetic but functional order that facilitates production flows.
  3. Clean and maintain a constant order: an orderly environment does not hide inefficiencies. Rather, it highlights them.
  4. Standardize so that everyone knows their tasks, their responsibilities, and their available tools in this continuous rationalization process.
  5. Circulate and support this methodology for it to become common practice in all company activities.

Many other methodologies fall within the lean manufacturing definition in supporting a company's transition to a lean approach. Those presented in this article are the essential pillars in improving production efficiency toward a lean thinking perspective.

 

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