Achieving success in Lean Manufacturing

In the manufacturing industry, Lean manufacturing is indispensable. Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy that has proven to have a positive impact on companies involved in production for decades. But how does Lean manufacturing work, and what principles can you work from? Let’s start at the beginning!

What is Lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing has been around for a long time and was first known as the Toyota Production System. Toyota distinguished itself from competitors by striving for continuous improvement and creating a smooth flow in the production line. This approach led to further development of Lean manufacturing and underlying improvement techniques in the 1990s, such as Kaizen, Ishikawa, and 5S Lean. Womak and Jones were the American brains behind this form of Lean. Lean manufacturing is a process that can be used to maximize production productivity while minimizing waste. The Lean manufacturing system is based on the belief that any aspect that does not add value to the customer can be seen as waste. By eliminating waste in the production process, a company benefits from lower operating costs, shorter lead times, and higher product quality. All of these are seen as valuable by customers and can thus improve revenue. Implementing a Lean manufacturing system is especially valuable for manufacturing companies that require many processing steps. The more processing steps, the more waste there often is to eliminate – and the more profit there is to be made. One of the tools widely used by companies in the manufacturing industry for Lean manufacturing is the 5S method, which makes it easy to reduce waste and create a visual overview of all waste and solutions. This tool is also known as Lean manufacturing 5S.

How does Lean manufacturing work?

First and foremost, it is important to realize that Lean manufacturing is not a one-time project. Lean manufacturing will only be effective if the philosophy is used for continuous improvement. By actively searching for waste that can be eliminated, Lean manufacturing delivers more value to the customer over the long term. A sustainable approach! Lean manufacturing can address waste related to processes, products, activities, money, time, or skills. This means that excess inventory and underutilized talent cannot be converted into value for the customer. The same goes for idle equipment, unnecessary movement of people and machines, or unnecessary transportation. Not efficient at all. Lean manufacturing addresses these inefficient situations with the goal of completely eliminating them. This reduces costs and creates more value for the customer.

The principles of Lean manufacturing

Lean manufacturing operates according to a number of core principles, which are used to implement the method effectively in a company. Below, we explain the Lean manufacturing principles for you.

  1. Value

You have seen the word ‘value’ several times in this article, and that is for a reason. The value is determined by the recipient (such as an external customer or an internal department) and greatly influences your business results. The value the recipient is willing to pay for your product must be created by you as a manufacturer. By eliminating waste and costs, it becomes possible to achieve the optimal price for the recipient while also increasing profits.

  1. Mapping the value stream

The value stream of a product relates to the entire lifecycle of the product. Each phase in the production process must be examined to determine which steps do not add value. By analyzing which materials, people, and other resources are truly necessary, waste becomes clear and can be eliminated quickly.

  1. Create a smooth flow in the production process

This means that lead times need to be improved because delays and waste in the production process detract from the value for the customer. So, remove as many barriers as possible that negatively impact lead times. A constant flow equals as constant a production as possible – and thus lower costs.

  1. Use a pull system instead of a push system

In a push system, the inventories needed to eventually meet the predicted customer demand are determined in advance. These forecasts are unreliable and can lead to unnecessary inventories and even unnecessary production. A concrete example: pallets of raw materials are prepared two days in advance, but in the meantime, the plan changes, and the raw materials have to be returned to the warehouse. Not efficient and certainly not valuable for the customer. Therefore, work according to a pull system, where you only start with the action points when the demand is actually there. This may mean that subsequent activities are only performed when the previous step has been completed and confirmed, creating a better connection between the activities. For example, raw materials are only called off when they are needed.

  1. Perfection does not exist, but Lean manufacturing does

The only way Lean manufacturing is effective for your organization, is if you accept the method as a principle that strives for perfection. Continuous improvement, therefore, goes hand in hand with Lean manufacturing. By constantly analyzing, evaluating, and improving processes, you continue to eliminate waste to achieve the perfect value stream for your production line. Lean manufacturing is therefore more than a method and can best be seen as a form of corporate culture. To strive for perfection for your production line, you can also offer employees the opportunity to take Lean manufacturing courses (belts) and further develop themselves in Lean. Supplement this with properly conveying and facilitating continuous improvement, by also having the manager operate in a Lean coaching manner.

The three keys of Lean manufacturing

A corporate culture, therefore. And that does not arise out of nowhere. To integrate Lean manufacturing into daily operations, you can use the following three keys:

Key 1: Standard operating procedures (SOPs)

These instructions describe how a task can be optimally performed. SOPs are focused on recurring matters, for which step-by-step procedures have been described. This is nice for employees during task execution and handy for the team if insight into the executed procedure is required afterward, for example, during an audit.

Key 2: Digital work instructions

Making SOPs available to everyone is best done by setting up digital work instructions. This allows you to provide visual explanations, make the instructions available anytime and anywhere in the factory, and quickly implement and adhere to changes in procedures. Lean manufacturing becomes easier this way.

Key 3: Operators platform

Implementing Lean manufacturing processes becomes easy when you combine the above keys on an online platform for operators. Provide online checklists, work instructions, and SOPs. By having every employee approach processes in a standard way, waste is recognized more quickly, and the Lean manufacturing method is continuously fuelled. The EZ-GO platform is such an online platform that can support the implementation of Lean manufacturing.