Implementing lean manufacturing, and proper application of its principles, can help any company survive in difficult financial times. It is a system that can be used not only in production areas but any other area that you are looking to streamline such as retail, hospitals or offices. It requires top-down commitment and bottom-up involvement.
Lean is a method that improves processes through continuous improvement (kaizen) and elimination of waste. It is the North American equivalent of the Toyota Production System. The foundation of Lean Manufacturing is leveling of production, known as Heijunka. Simply put, the work load each day is level. Building upon that foundation are two main pillars which represent “Just-in-time production” and “Automation with a human touch”.
The results your company can expect to see will differ from that of other companies. It will depend on where you start and what you put into it. But with the right level of commitment and planning, you will start to see some of these benefits in a short period of time. Listed below are some of the more common benefits you can expect to see. Others may present themselves as well.
Improved quality – A lot of the activity in a lean environment is geared towards improving quality. As quality issues arise, problem solving techniques are used to root cause the problem. From there, mistake proofing is put in place to strengthen the process and prevent recurrence. As a result, the quality of your product will be improved.
Improved Visual Management – Another benefit of lean manufacturing is management by sight. If done correctly, your plant will be set up so you can evaluate an entire area with a visual scan. Any abnormalities will stand out and be easy to identify as a problem.
Increased efficiency – Line balancing will ensure each person in the process is working in the most efficient manner. Standardized work will ensure they are doing it correctly following the same method every time. This leads to repeatability and increased efficiencies.
Manpower reductions – One of the major benefits of lean is getting more done with less people. With standardized work and increased efficiencies, the ability to do the job with less people becomes a very real possibility. This does not mean you have to send these people to the unemployment line. The concept of lean would have these freed-up people utilized to perform further kaizen activity, training to enhance skill level, or maintenance of the system once it is implemented.
Easier to manage – The work instructions and standardized work let people know what they have to do and when. This makes managing an area much easier. And problems will still arise. But they will be much easier to deal with in a team environment where the support groups are eager to help solve problems.
Total Company Involvement – Lean is meant to involve the whole company. It is not intended to be put into action in only one area. It is a management philosophy which should include every part of your organization. This helps promote the concept that everyone in the company is part of the team.
Problem Elimination – Lean manufacturing forces you to attack an issue and continue to investigate it until it has been eliminated. Root cause analysis and cross-functional teams are utilized to ensure a problem receives the level of attention it deserves to correct it.
Reduced Space – As part of the waste reduction process, space will be created. Reduction of finished and raw inventory will save space vertically in your racking as well as horizontally across your floor.
Safer Work Environment – Visual management and 5S will help identify when things are out of place. When unnecessary elements are removed from the operation, the workplace becomes much more organized. And an organized work environment is a safe work environment.
Improved employee morale – This is a benefit that may not be realized during the initial stages of your implementation (see resistance below). But once the concept of lean starts to get accepted by the employees, you will see employee morale on the rise. Employee involvement and empowerment will make all members of your company feel like a contributing part of the team. And the reduction of uncertainty in the workplace, as a result of lean, will reduce stress in your team members and lead to improved employee morale.