Lean manufacturing is one of the most widely utilized business improvement methodologies. There are hundreds of consultants and schools teaching lean manufacturing principles.
The problem with many courses teaching lean manufacturing is the lack of real world experience of the instructor. Many have limited experience applying the principles, nor the interpersonal skills to influence change.
Lean manufacturing is not nearly as structured as six sigma or other continuous improvement initiatives. There is no standard approach to implementation or third party certifying body such as ISO.
Lean manufacturing consists of many different “tools”. The best courses teach the lean manufacturing principles as well as how and when to use the tools.
Some companies have heard that lean manufacturing implementation will reduce their waste and costs, and decide to just start implementing. They often start using one tool at a time until the boss declares it’s done.
Worse yet, some companies find a consultant that knows 5S and little else. When the consultant leaves, the clean and organized business eventually realizes they are clean, organized, and still full of waste.
The correct approach to implementing lean manufacturing begins with an analysis of the businesses needs, opportunities, and challenges. Once these opportunities are identified, the tools are used which will solve the issues. These tools might be lean manufacturing or six sigma tools. It simply wouldn’t be prudent to limit the success of a lean initiative to exclude any tool if it was known to solve the problem at hand.
In other words, the problems identify the tools rather than the tools being force into the organization.
Some of the lean manufacturing tools are 5S (Sort-Set in Order-Shine-Standardize-Sustain), value stream mapping, kanban, takt time, continuous flow, cellular manufacturing, TPM (total productive maintenance), SMED (single minute exchange of die), OEE (overall equipment effectiveness), line balancing, standardized operations, 7 wastes (muda), error proofing, kaizen, and root cause problem solving.
There are a few tools that can and should be used with any lean manufacturing initiative. The 5S tool is a powerful workplace organization tool. This tool makes sense in any business. It would be hard to find an organization where order and organization didn’t make sense.
Root cause problem solving tools should be used in every lean manufacturing implementation. These tools vary based on the problem. Some of the more common are Cause and Effects Analysis, 5 Why Analysis, 8D method, CT trees, Process Mapping, and affinity diagrams.
Value stream mapping is another useful tool to determine where value is added and the areas of non-value added (muda). The value stream map depicts the flow of product and information on paper. Information such as inventory, distance, and bottlenecks are highlighted. Once the value stream map is completed, opportunities for improvement become obvious.
Tools such as line balancing, SMED, takt time, and OEE should be used to solve specific business opportunities. For example, SMED (single minute exchange of die) is a tool that is used to reduce machinery or process setup times. This tool is a lot more useful in businesses that run smaller order quantities and changeover often. OEE is an excellent tool to determine why a machine or process is not producing at world class levels. Once the reasons (opportunities) are known, they can be improved.
Kaizen (Japanese word meaning continuous improvement) is a very powerful improvement tool. It is basically a rapid (3-5 days) improvement method utilizing a cross-functional team to solve a business problem. A kaizen event team will use many other lean tools to help solve the problem.
Utilize lean manufacturing principles to identify and solve business issues and the financial impact will justify their use. If the tools are made to “fit” the organization, the result will be chaos, disruption, low morale, and financial loss.
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Carl Wright is an industrial engineer, ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt, and Master Black Belt. A primer on lean manufacturing principles is located in our lean manufacturing course description and six sigma training site.
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