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Here is the skinny on Lean Manufacturing

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is a production methodology based on maximising productivity and minimising waste - defined as anything that does not add value customers are willing to pay for. First introduced by Toyota in 1930, the term ‘lean’ was coined in the late 80s. This approach has four key benefits: cutting waste, improving quality, reducing costs, and reducing lead times for products and services.

How Does Lean Manufacturing Work?

The key principle of lean manufacturing is continually improving processes by eliminating waste. This could mean cutting out products, services, processes or activities that take time, money or skills but add no value for the customer. Excess inventories, underused talent, and wasteful or ineffective processes and procedures all have to go. These efficiencies streamline services, cut costs, and create savings for the customer.

Companies large and small can leap over their competition by understanding and implementing this highly efficient system.

The 5 Principles of Lean Manufacturing

1. Value: This means how much the customer is willing to pay for products or services. The manufacturer creates value by cutting waste and costs to meet the ideal price for the customer while maximising profits.

2. Map the Value Stream: This means analysing the resources needed to produce a product or service, aiming to cut waste at every stage of the production cycle.

3. Create Flow: This means removing barriers so that processes flow smoothly, minimising waste and delays.

4. Establish a Pull System: A pull system means only starting work when there is demand, whereas a push system produces inventories in advance, often producing too much or not enough of a product to meet demand.

5. Perfection: The idea of perfection through continuous improvement, or ‘Kaizen’, was established by Toyota Motor Corporation founder Kiichiro Toyoda. The culture of continuous improvement needs to filter through every level of a company from the C-suite to the factory floor - the concept is that major improvements can be brought about as a result of the application of small, continuous changes.

The 8 Wastes of Lean Manufacturing

Lean production does not focus exclusively on waste reduction, but waste is minimised or eliminated more as an inevitable byproduct of better production flow. It may seem obvious that waste hurts productivity and profitability. But the importance of reducing waste is often underappreciated.

Toyota originally identified seven types of waste:

  • Unnecessary transportation
  • Excess inventory
  • Unnecessary movement of people, equipment or machinery
  • Waiting – either people or idle equipment
  • Overproduction
  • Over processing or adding unnecessary features
  • Defects that require costly correction

Many lean practitioners add an eighth waste: unused talent and ingenuity.

These types of waste can be sorted into three categories, each covered by a Japanese term:

Mura: Unevenness or waste caused by fluctuating demand.

Muri: Overload or waste caused by asking people to do too much.

Muda: Process-related waste and tasks that add no value.

While many assume lean manufacturing only benefits large, repetitive, mass-production operations, the fact is small-medium sized manufacturers can also benefit.

Tips to Implement Lean Processes

1. Design a Simple Manufacturing System

2. Keep Searching for Ways to Improve

3. Continuously Implement Design Improvements

4. Seek Staff Buy-In

Lean Manufacturing Tools Used

  • Control Charts – to check workflows
  • Kanban Boards – to visualise workflows
  • 5S – a method to organise workplace
    • Sort: keep the workplace free of all unnecessary items.
    • Set: all things should be in order for each unique workplace to ensure maximum ease and efficiency.
    • Shine: everyone should be a janitor; everyone is responsible for keeping their workspace clean and tidy.
    • Standardize: all roles and tasks should be standardized in lists and schedules to promote good habits.
    • Sustain: ensure everyone is committed to the long-term goal.
  • Multi-Process Handling
  • Error Proofing (aka ‘Poka-Yoke’)
  • Rank Order Clustering – to help analyse production flow
  • Single-Point Scheduling
  • Single-Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) – for fast switching between manufacturing processes
  • Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) – to boost manufacturing integrity and quality
  • Value Stream Mapping
  • Work Cell Redesign

Lean manufacturing has always been data-driven. Until recently, this was often resource-intensive but with the advent of Industry 4.0 – technology is impacting manufacturing engineering particularly the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), big data, and AI – collecting data has become economically more efficient.

Is Lean Manufacturing Still Relevant?

The short answer is yes - lean manufacturing can improve and streamline manufacturing processes to create benefits for customers while saving time and money by cutting waste. Lean methodologies are best applied across a whole organisation, with continuous monitoring, continuous improvement, and buy-in from employees at all levels.

Lean manufacturing can result in a highly engaged employee culture. How to keep people motivated and increase employee engagement is critical today. enhancing productivity, recruitment, and retention – all contributing significantly to financial performance. 'Lean' provides engagement because employees become stakeholders as they are invited to participate in the map and redesign processes. There is a fundamental shift in employee attitudes from fearing problems to celebrating and embracing them.

Also, Industry 4.0 has brought greater automation, made data and metrics more available, and enabled better communication. ‘Lean’ enables manufacturers to operate with as many resources as they need to succeed – and no more.

This could be a very exciting time for lean manufacturing to evolve with a new set of resources at its disposal. The principles of lean manufacturing are both timeless and universal, meaning that they will continue to help OEMs in the future as they have done since their inception in the 1930s.

Redline Group - the UK's most trusted Electronics and High Technology recruitment specialist for professional Contract, Permanent and Executive positions. With four decades of experience in knowledge-led recruitment. Redline is perfectly positioned to offer advice about future-proofing you permanent, contract and interim needs.

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