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Important principles of lean manufacturing

machinery19192168.jpgLean manufacturing is one of the most-popular business improvement strategies. It is used by companies like Boeing, Toyota, General Motors, and a handful of other companies. When it comes to learning and implementing lean manufacturing, your company is best advised to pay a consultant to come in and train everyone.

When you are hiring a consultant, look for one that has a lot of experience in lean manufacturing. Far too often consultants only have experience with one or two aspects of lean manufacturing and they are unable to teach you multiple principles. You may find that you only get information about the 5 "S" method or kaizen. Unfortunately many of the consultants do not have a lot of experience with the implementation of the strategies and they fail to influence your company to become a lean environment.

What makes lean manufacturing difficult is that it doesn't come with a structured set of rules like Six Sigma and other process improvement strategies do. Lean manufacturing has several different tools and it is up to your company to determine which tools actually fit the company needs and which ones you can afford to implement.

Many companies go into lean manufacturing with a blindfold on. They have heard from others that lean manufacturing reduces wastes, improves costs, and improves customer satisfaction so they blindly jump on-board and assume that it will naturally integrate into the company. Without proper training, it will be difficult to implement lean manufacturing. It requires a lot of time and commitment from every single person within the company, especially from the managers. This is because managers are responsible for finding ways to continually improve the process and to help the employees understand their role in it.

If you hire a consultant, make sure they properly train you and your staff members before they leave. This commonly happens to companies that pay someone to teach them the 5 "S" approach. They will quickly go through the different steps and then leave when it is just barely getting started, leaving a confused manger to take the brunt of punishment if it is not properly implemented. What often happens with this is that employees and managers go through the cleaning and organizing phase, but they still have unnecessary waste within the company. Sometimes the waste can come from employees that simply have too much time on their hands or it can come from lack of proper equipment for employees to do their jobs.

To understand the basic principles of lean manufacturing, take a good look at your businesses needs. What would you like to accomplish by implementing lean manufacturing? What are some of the common challenges you face with your company? Once you have everything clearly defines, you can decide which lean manufacturing tools you need to implement. Normally the tools are a mix between lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. Here are a few of the common tools you can use with lean manufacturing:

  • 5 "S" approach

  • Kanban

  • Kaizen

  • 7 wastes (muda)

  • Value stream mapping

  • Continuous flow

  • SMED (single minute exchange of die)

  • Standardized operations

  • OEE (overall equipment effectiveness)

There are other tools but these tend to be the most common within manufacturing plants. Practically every business can implement some of the tools like the 5 "S" approach. This tool is more of an organizational tool than a tool that is used to increase productivity (although it does do this). Value stream mapping is another common tool that helps businesses identify waste. You are looking at areas where value is added to the company and areas when there is no-value. This will provide you with a visual way to check your manufacturing process to identify and glitches in the system that needs to be addressed.

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