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Lean Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing_20130816172258.jpgHow much waste does your organization produce?

For example, do you ever have to wait for someone else to finish a task before you can get on with your own work? Do you have a large inventory of unsold stock? Do you have more workstations that you need? Or do you order materials months in advance of when they are needed?

How about flexibility? If consumers want a modification to your product, can you quickly change your processes to meet their needs?

Waste costs you and your customers money. And if your customers have to pay more because of it, they might go elsewhere. Being competitive also requires a lot of flexibility. You must be able to meet the changing demands of your customers quickly and effectively, and adapt to a rapidly changing business environment.

So, how can you reduce waste and do things more efficiently? And how can you keep up with the changing demands of consumers?

First mentioned in James Womack's 1990 book, "The Machine That Changed the World," lean manufacturing is a theory that can help you to simplify and organize your working environment so that you can reduce waste, and keep your people, equipment, and workspace responsive to what's needed right now.

Tip: The idea of lean manufacturing is just as applicable to offices and other work environments as it is to manufacturing plants. It's helpful to relate words like "inventory," "customers," and "production" to whatever you're processing - data, documents, knowledge, services, and so on.

A Brief History of Lean Manufacturing

Henry Ford was one of the first people to develop the ideas behind lean manufacturing. He used the idea of "continuous flow" on the assembly line for his Model T automobile, where he kept production standards extremely tight, so each stage of the process fitted together with each other stage, perfectly. This resulted in little waste.

But Ford's process wasn't flexible. His assembly lines produced the same thing, again and again, and the process didn't easily allow for any modifications or changes to the end product – a Model T assembly line produced only the Model T. It was also a "push" process, where Ford set the level of production, instead of a "pull" process led by consumer demand. This led to large inventories of unsold automobiles, ultimately resulting in lots of wasted money.

Other manufacturers began to use Ford's ideas, but many realized that the inflexibility of his system was a problem. Taiichi Ohno of Toyota then developed the Toyota Production System (TPS), which used Just In Time  manufacturing methods to increase efficiency. As Womack reported in his book, Toyota used this process successfully and, as a result, eventually emerged as one the most profitable manufacturing companies in the world.

Lean Manufacturing Basics

Lean manufacturing is based on finding efficiencies and removing wasteful steps that don't add value to the end product. There's no need to reduce quality with lean manufacturing – the cuts are a result of finding better, more efficient ways of accomplishing the same tasks.

To find the efficiencies, lean manufacturing adopts a customer-value focus, asking "What is the customer willing to pay for?" Customers want value, and they'll pay only if you can meet their needs. They shouldn't pay for defects, or for the extra cost of having large inventories. In other words, they shouldn't pay for your waste.

Waste is anything that doesn't add value to the end product. In lean manufacturing, there are eight categories of waste that you should monitor:

  1. Overproduction – Are you producing more than consumers demand?
  2. Waiting – How much lag time is there between production steps?
  3. Inventory (work in progress) – Are your supply levels and work in progress inventories too high?
  4. Transportation – Do you move materials efficiently?
  5. Over-processing – Do you work on the product too many times, or otherwise work inefficiently?
  6. Motion – Do people and equipment move between tasks efficiently?
  7. Defects – How much time do you spend finding and fixing production mistakes?
  8. Workforce – Do you use workers efficiently?

Note:  The first seven sources of waste were originally outlined in the Toyota production system, and were called "muda." Lean manufacturing often adds the eighth "workforce" category.

Lean manufacturing gives priority to simple, small, and continuous improvement such as changing the placement of a tool, or putting two workstations closer together. As these small improvements are added together, they can lead to a higher level of efficiency throughout the whole system. (Note that this emphasis on small improvements doesn't mean that you cannot make larger improvements if they are required!)

Note:  Although the aim of lean manufacturing is to remove as much waste as possible by continuously refining your processes, you probably won't eliminate waste completely.

By Mind Tools

Lean production methods reduce the cost of constructing high quality building projects. The lead time between a customer placing an order and the end product being ready is much shorter through the use of the latest technologies under controlled conditions.

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