Manufacturers are always striving for perfection, but as we know nothing is ever perfect. The closest they can come to perfection is continuous improvement. Lean manufacturing principles are one of the best tools manufacturers can use to continue to improve their efficiency and productivity.
Lean manufacturing is a term that describes streamlining manufacturing processes to reduce waste, as in wasted time, money, energy or materials . If a specific manufacturing process is known for being clucky and an employee must frequently move around to gather necessary components or tools, this will cause a lapse in productivity. A Lean way to handle this particular problem would be by moving the components and necessary tools for that specific manufacturing process.
There are so many other ways to incorporate lean principles into your manufacturing operation, moving tools closer to employees is just a basic example but still one that can have a big impact. There are Lean professionals are out there to locate and improve a host of other inefficient processes you may not even be aware of.
However, Lean isn’t just about higher a six sigma black belt and expecting the facility to run 90% more efficiently. A Lean approach to manufacturing has the best results when upper management and the employees handling the manufacturing processes collaborate and communicate. An employee that handles a specific manufacturing process day in and day out will be much more aware of what needs fixing than the manager. Encouraging the employees to share their input when it comes to improving processes can be the best way to identify problems. Not only should management encourage employees to share their ideas, management needs to actually listen and think about what the employees are suggesting. There is no faster way to make an employee less willing to share their input than to ignore every suggestion they make. Taking their suggestions seriously and even trying them out with a test run will bring management and employees closer and will lead to an overall better running operation.
Efficiency and productivity are important, but these are not the only benefits that come out of Lean. As mentioned above, if an employee feels as though their suggestions are taken seriously this will greatly increase moral. Happy employees equal better productivity and work quality. Lean manufacturing also has the potential to greatly increase safety around the factory floor.
Let’s say an employee needs to walk all around a facility to locate the specific components and tools for a job. Not only does this waste time, but can put the employee in danger. If they need to reach up high for a heavy box, the risk of injury has increased. A slip, a falling box, even a shelf failing are all situations that can seriously injure an employee. Even reaching low has the potential to cause a serious injury. Over time, constantly bending over to pick up even light objects can put strain on the employees lower back. These kinds of injuries can all be avoided if the desired components are placed in a ‘Lean’ location, easily accessible and in reach.
Many companies want to dive in head first when it comes to their Lean initiative. But if you jump in before knowing the true depth of the problem, you’re likely to fall short of your goal. The main thing manufacturers need to understand is the idea of continuous improvement. Start small, see what works and what doesn’t and try to make adjustments to improve the processes little by little. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. A manufacturer who tries to overhaul their entire operation may find themselves actually causing the opposite of the intended effect. If every operation is changed at one time, employees will be uncomfortable with these new systems and it will take a longer time for them to return back to their original productivity levels. Instead, focus on a specific process that is causing issues. Ask those employees who are working on this process what they think can be done and try it out. By starting with one process at a time, you are much more likely to see positive results.
Continually looking for ways to improve, taking the suggestions of your employees and a complete understanding of the issues that are present will help a manufacturer can successfully start on their Lean journey. A complete overhaul of every operation could actually hurt instead of help your company. Understanding where to start and how to take those first steps are crucial to your success.