Lean Manufacturing Principles

Lean Manufacturing is an improvement method now widely used in business. There are many lean consultants and schools teaching the principles of lean manufacturing. The problem with many courses teaching lean manufacturing is the lack of real world experience of the instructor. Many have limited experience in applying the principles, or interpersonal skills to influence change.

Lean manufacturing is not as structured as Six Sigma or other continuous improvement initiatives. There is no standard approach to the implementation or a third party certification body such as ISO. Lean manufacturing consists of many different "tools". The best courses teach the principles of lean manufacturing, and how and when to use the tools.

Some companies understanding that targeting value-added production will reduce waste and costs decide to start implementing immediately. They start by using one tool at a time until the management says it is done.

Even worse, some companies find a consultant who knows 5S and nothing else. When the consultant leaves, the clean and organized business finally realizes they are clean, organized, and still full of waste.

The correct method to implement lean manufacturing begins with an analysis of business needs of the opportunities and challenges. Once these opportunities are identified, the tools are used to solve problems. These tools could be Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma tools. It would simply not be prudent to limit the success of a lean initiative to exclude any tool if it were known to solve the problem at hand.

In other words, the problems is identifying the right tools rather than forcing tools on the organization. Tools should be used to fit 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 waste (muda), kaizen, and root cause analysis.

There are some tools that can and should be used with any lean manufacturing initiative. The 5S tool is a powerful organization of work. This tool makes sense in any business. It would be difficult to find an organization where order and organization does not make sense.

Root cause analysis should be used in all implementations of lean manufacturing. These tools vary depending on the problem. Among the most common include cause and effect analysis, 5 why analysis, 8D, CT trees, process mapping, and affinity diagrams.

Mapping the value chain is another useful tool to determine where value is added and the areas of non-value added (muda). Value stream mapping represents flow and product information on paper. Information such as inventory, distance and bottlenecks are highlighted. Once the value stream map is completed, opportunities for improvement become apparent.

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 setup times of machines or processes. OEE is an excellent tool to determine why a machine or process does not produce at world-class levels. Once the reasons or opportunities are known, they can be improved.

Kaizen (Japanese word meaning continuous improvement) is a very powerful tool for improvement. It's basically a (fast 3-5 days) method for improvement where a multidisciplinary team works to solve a selected business problem. Kaizen Event teams will use many other lean tools to help solve the problem.

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) is an excellent tool to improve maintenance, which helps to improve all aspects of a manufacturing company, including setting times, downtime, cost and profitability. TPM is based on the operators involved in the maintenance of their equipment. Operators often supplement their own preventive maintenance, while other initiatives simply have them heavily involved. Although TPM is a great tool, it would not be as useful in a service organization without equipment.

Using the principles of lean manufacturing to identify and resolve operational and 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 losses.

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