Lean manufacturing best practices

Lean Manufacturing Best Practices – How to Get Started

When you start researching lean manufacturing for the first time you’ll be confronted with myriad principles, concepts, processes, and tools, each of which has to have their own acronyms of course.

Lean manufacturing best practices are not that complicated! They are based on 3 common-sense principles:

  1. A laser focus on providing value to the customer
  2. Identifying and eliminating waste
  3. Establishing a process of continuous improvement

In order to become a successful lean manufacturer, these principles need to be baked into the company culture. Critical to that success is empowering each member of the workforce from C suite on down to apply lean principles at any time anywhere in the organization.

Step 1 – Training and Getting the Buy-in

A lean transformation involves change, which comes easy to some and not so easy to others. Resistance to change can be overcome by:

  1. Creating a team spirit. Have everyone from the top floor to shop floor trained simultaneously and be equally empowered to contribute ideas and take actions.
  2. Get buy-in by helping everyone understand those lean principles will make individuals work tasks easier.
  3. Buy-in also comes from sharing company goals and objectives and showing that every individual’s role is important to achieving them.
  4. Build momentum by sharing successes in daily meetings that have a different leader each time.

Step 2 – Identify and Eliminate the 7 Wastes

There are 7 basic types of waste in manufacturing which add no value to the manufacturing process or the customer. Review all areas and processes in your organization, identify the wastes and work to reduce or eliminate them. This practice is the fundamental core of lean manufacturing principles.

Transportation – the movement of items from one location to another does not add value. Shortening the distance and reducing the travel time will decrease production cycle and lead times.

  • Production components should be at the cell they are to be used at and no longer than an arms-length away from the worker
  • A buffer stock of components should be held at close proximity to the production area
  • The distance for materials transportation to and from the production area should be minimized
  • The travel distance for Work In Process (WIP) materials between production cells should be minimized

Inventory – one of the most important wastes to get under control. Excess inventory uses storage space, ties up working capital and can get damaged. It needs to be reduced or eliminated at every stage in the production process including raw materials, finished goods and subassemblies.

  • Maintain accurate computer-based inventory records and implement a regular cycle counting program to back them up. Without accurate record,s you will not be able to eliminate excess inventory
  • Only produce to customer demand and not to error prone forecasts
  • Make partners of your suppliers by being transparent with your production schedule with the goal of receiving smaller shipments and shorter lead times (Just In Time (JIT) manufacturing)
  • Do not batch produce

Drive Lean Manufacturing with ERP System

Motion – unnecessary bending, reaching, lifting and walking is a waste.

  • Heavy items should be stored at waist level and lighter parts closer to the ground
  • In use, production items should be stored as close as possible to the worker.
  • If a production process requires multiple machines operated by one individual, those machines should be placed as close as possible to reduce the walking distance between them.

Waiting – harder to identify but still important to eliminate.

  • Parts shortages bring production lines to a halt causing workers to wait until it restarts. Eliminate parts shortages through effective inventory control.
  • Machine breakdowns increase worker wait time. Reduce machine downtime by the implementation of a preventative maintenance program.
  • Have operators work on multiple machines. One machine can be operated while the other is going through a cycle time so the operator is not standing around waiting.

Overproduction – builds excess inventory and creates obsolescence.

  • Pace production to meet customer demand.
  • If customer demand is met do not produce just to keep the production line moving. Have production workers work on other tasks such as continuous improvement ideas or cleaning and maintaining their work areas.

Overprocessing – performing unnecessary processes or tasks not required by the customer.

  • If a part is not visible to the consumer do not spend time trimming it or “making it look good.”
  • Do not machine parts with too tight a tolerance
  • Do not paint areas that will never be seen or be affected by corrosion

Defects – require rework or replacement and can be caused by nonstandard operations, substandard raw materials, incorrect assembly instructions, poorly maintained equipment and poorly trained operators.

  • Put in place quality assurance best practices
  • Implement error protection and design processes
  • Put in place standard operating procedures
  • Empower an operator to immediately rectify any problem

Step 3 – Continuously Improve, Improve, Improve

Paul Akers is the president and owner of Fastcap, a lean manufacturing company based in Bellingham, WA. Paul is a lean fanatic and works to improve everything every day. The video below is an excellent example of lean manufacturing at its best and clearly illustrates how lean principles can not only build an efficient and profitable manufacturing organization, but also an empowered and motivated workforce. Good luck on your own lean journey!