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Production Leveling: Extended Entry

Production leveling is a technique used by the Toyota Production System to reduce waste (mura) and to develop production efficiency. Production leveling believes in using incentives to establish a constant demand rate for the products you produce. This allows for the processing in the future to be constant and predictable. Quite often production leveling will be referred to as "Heijunka" or production smoothing.

What is Heijunka?
Heijunka is another Japanese term that "refers to a system of production smoothing designed to achieve a more even and consistent flow of work." As you can see Heijunka is designed to level the production volume and to level the production by product type. In order to understand production leveling, we will look at the 2 aspects of Heijunka in more detail.

Starting with production leveling, Toyota's view is that production systems vary in the muri and mura and the capacity of a machine is forced in some time periods. Muri or overburden is considered to be all the unreasonable work that management assigns upon workers and machines due to poor organization. Some examples of muri are carrying heavy weights, dangerous tasks (behavior-based safety issues), and working at a significantly faster than normal pace. Muri defines this work as pushing a person or machine to a pace beyond their normal limits. Muri is associated with the preparation or planning phase of the production process. Mura or inconsistency focuses on the implementation and elimination of fluctuation of scheduling. This usually falls to the operations level to schedule the quality and volume of the production process.

The approach Toyota uses to combat muri and mura is to manufacture at a long-term average demand and carry a level amount of inventory to keep up with a variable demand. This means they will have a stable production process and will reduce the frequency of shipments.

Leveling the production by product type is a little different. Most companies produce a mix of products and the quantities of specific products is uneven. Again, the solution Toyota used was to reduce the time and cost of the production changeovers so that smaller batches of products were produced and the lost production time was minimal. This leveled out the demand for certain components and reduced the total inventory that was not used. Toyota uses a heijunka box to achieve the heijunka style efficiencies; this is basically a visual scheduling board that shows the different demand levels for certain products.

Helpful Resources:
Wikipedia provides an excellent definition of production leveling. It discusses how production leveling is part of the "mura" process in lean manufacturing and how Toyota incorporated this thinking into their business.

Definitions of Lean Manufacturing
This web site has definitions of all the different forms of lean manufacturing. It is a brief description of the purpose of production leveling and it includes a brief definition about production leveling.

How Production Leveling Works With Your Business
This is an excellent blog about heijunka. It discusses how it works with your business to level out your business processes to create a smooth flowing production line. You can also link to other blogs about production leveling.

Factory Logic
Factory logic provides businesses with solutions for production leveling. From this web site you can learn about why you need to implement production leveling and how Factory logic can help you eliminate wastes.

Implementing Heijuka
This is an excellent blog about production leveling (heijunka). You can read about how some companies have implemented heijunka and how it has worked to improve the production and decrease waste at the company.

Production Leveling
This web site provides information about production leveling. It talks about mura and how you can implement production leveling at your company to help reduce costs and eliminate unneeded waste.

This is an excellent web site about heijunka and why you need to implement it into your company. This is a great article about lean manufacturing, it provides a question and answer scenario from several companies.

7 Wastes
This web site discusses the 7 manufacturing wastes. It provides information on how you can reduce or eliminate the wastes from your company. You can also sign up with this consulting company to learn how to reduce waste from your company.

Toyota's Lean Manufacturing
This web site provides information on lean manufacturing and how Taichii Ohno created it for Toyota. It is an excellent web site if you want to learn about the wastes identified by many companies including individuals like Henry Ford and Eli Whitney.

Overview of Lean Manufacturing
This is a lean manufacturing company. They provide you with a brief overview about lean manufacturing and how they can help your company eliminate waste. You can contact them via internet or telephone.

Implementing heijunka helped Toyota reduce vehicle production time and inventory. Toyota is known for creating lean manufacturing or the Toyota Production System, as they call it. Several successful companies have looked to their approach to reduce excess waste at their organization and increase overall productivity.

How does Production Leveling work?
Again, production leveling involves the "mura" waste from the Toyota Production System. Since customer demand tends to fluctuate, the Toyota Production System and production leveling have been combined to produce a lean called "demand leveling". There are small fluctuations that increase waste on a production line. Typically this occurs because equipment, workers, inventory or other elements are not prepared for peak production like they should be. If you remove parts in the production process like timing and quality, the range of these fluctuations will increase (this is known as demand amplification).

Production leveling works by trying to keep these fluctuations to a minimum or a zero. Toyota implemented production leveling and their strategy is to never assemble the same automobile model in a batch. There production is leveled by making a single automobile, then another, and so on. Production leveling focuses on making smaller batches as compared to mass production where more is considered to be better. The final assembly process assembles the car in a small batch, just like all the earlier processes.

In the past long changeover times have meant that it was smarter to produce as many parts as possible. Now, the Toyota Production System has proven that die changes can be made quickly and can be improved with more practice. To give you a good perspective of how changeovers have improved it has been stated that "in the 1940's it took two to three hours, in the 1950's it dropped from one hour to 15 minutes, and now it takes three minutes." This is a significant improvement from the old methods of mass production.

Toyota is continuing to work on the final stage of production leveling to ensure all their processes are level. Single piece flow is the intended result of production leveling and so far, it is in the intermediate stage. Toyota is a large advocate of single piece flow because you can determine where adjustments and adaptations need to be made in the production stage. This will help your business because you will avoid major issues in the future.

Why should my company implement production leveling?
If you are not already convinced that the Toyota Production System works and you don't see the need to implement production leveling, then keep reading. In lean manufacturing work in progress is considered a block in money because it hides problems and makes your manufacturing process unstable. Every imperfection in the system creates a waste. So how can you make work in progress a zero cost? Simple, by optimizing the process to provide the best value to the customer, you will have a zero cost solution for work in progress. Removing waste from the system is essential to create value to the customer.

Ideally, you should not have any work in progress apart from the parts that are being processed in the work areas. Unfortunately it is very difficult to run your business after this manner. There are so many constrictions that prevent this from happening such as: machine capacity requirements, technical requirements of machinery, and human limitations. Equipping your facility to handle the peak requirements all the time will create a cost with a non-added value. This is simply because during off-peak periods, your machine will be running as though it is a peak period. Hence, this is why you need to implement production leveling to obtain a smooth, consistent balance all the time.

Production leveling will prevent overloading the machinery and people during the peak seasons. If your demand fluctuations are predictable, then this is the easiest way to see how production leveling will help. By understanding the fluctuations, you can collect good data and analyze the mechanisms to gain a proper evaluation. Production leveling initially requires some work from you in the beginning, but it depends upon the predictions rather than the actual demand. Leveling out the production load will reduce the cost of operation and will reduce the stress on your machines and your employees. Another great benefit to production leveling is that it will create value to the customer. To put it simple, production leveling will make your internal processes stable during the fluctuating external demands of your customers.

By putting your products on a repetitive production cycle, you will find that it is unnecessary to change this cycle for extended periods of time. By accomplishing this stabilization, you are gaining a benefit in the form of "economy of repetition." This basically means that when you run the same sequence every time for the same amount of time for each product, your production team is more capable to reduce setup time, deal with maintenance and material issues, adhere to a standard of work, and run lengths for each product that is varying.

As your business learns to master production leveling, it will be possible to incorporate more and more products into this new steady sequence, until your entire process is leveled. The frequency of your products will also increase from a monthly to a daily process. The more you practice production leveling, the more your production team will be able to gain experience and monitor the varying volumes.

Eliminating waste is essential to watch your company grow. Unnecessary steps, unnecessary handoffs, and other factors can be completely eliminated with implementing lean manufacturing and production leveling. While many think the concept of production leveling combats lean manufacturing, it really is an additional tool to include in lean manufacturing. It is important for those in the production industry to implement lean manufacturing or at least adopt production leveling (heijunka). This will ensure you that every process at your company will be leveled by volume and mix. This creates a smoother working environment for everyone at the facility and will create a better experience for your customers. If you are giving your customers their products on the date promised, your customer satisfaction levels will increase and this in turn causes your overall profit margin to increase. It has long been stated that word-of-mouth is one of the best marketing tools businesses have, by implementing production leveling; you are saving on a marketing cost as well. The customers are happy and you are satisfied because you have saved money and reduced muda, muri and mura. Plus, your employee satisfaction levels will increase because they are not feeling overburdened by their workload.

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