Lean manufacturing, often simply referred to as "Lean," is a set of operational tools and philosophies that, when applied, create a quality product at maximum value to benefit customers. The practice involves considering the customer's needs in all aspects of the organization to reduce waste, optimize processes and provide the most value.
Hytrol made the decision to implement Lean manufacturing in 2004 for one reason: our customers. By applying this demand-base flow to our manufacturing processes, we have increased productivity, lessened inventory and decreased cycle times. This method of operation also allows us to continually reinvest in the business and implement the latest technology.
Lean manufacturing can provide many benefits to your organization, but it can be difficult to know where to begin. By continually performing iterations of Lean processes, your business will garner employee involvement, standardization in processes, and more.
Lean is a journey -- not a destination. How do you get each employee on board to take the journey? Educating and inspiring your employees is the first, and most crucial, step. In Lean manufacturing, every employee must be educated on the foundational principles, and *that creates company buy-in where you need it most*. Making Lean training part of the onboarding process for every new employee will create more investment and self-sufficiency in your workers and send them home with a sense of purpose each day. A commitment to Lean practices and ensures all employees have a solid understanding of the purpose and importance of the program, and a healthy understanding of the business they're in.
When employees understand Lean principles, they will strive to create a quality product. That's because Lean is always focused on the customer; that customer can be external, but they can also be an internal customer--the next person or department in the value stream. Quality is a cornerstone of this method, and employees are intrinsically committed on providing value at every step. With Lean in place, quality is built-in.
Standardization is the key to creating a quality product every time. Creating a standard operating procedure affirms each employee is on the same page and documents the most efficient method of production. By providing a benchmark for work procedures or a step-by-step guide for production, you will improve uniformity and performance throughout the facility.
Short Lead Times
The demand for shorter lead times is growing. Customers expect to receive their product quickly and on-time. Lean manufacturing provides the necessary insight to visualize waste so it can be eliminated. If a process does not add value for the customer, it is considered waste. Eliminating these processes will increase productivity and shorten lead times. This also provides a competitive edge for your business. As you become more efficient, customers will turn to your company and its solutions more frequently.
A manufacturing process will never be perfect; there is always room for refinement. The Lean journey is built on the principles of continuous improvement. Manufacturing processes, along with other business functions, need to be evaluated constantly. With new technological advancements allowing for process improvements every day, this creates a system that boosts the customer experience, employee performance and your bottom line.
To begin your journey into Lean manufacturing, start by focusing on the customer. When the customer is at the forefront of each employee's mind, you're on your way to establishing better processes and performance.
Kathy Cole is the Lean facilitator at Hytrol. In her role, she facilitates all key principles of Lean manufacturing in the workplace, such as training new or current employees the fundamentals of Lean and initiating weekly Kaizens to improve processes and eliminate waste. She is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt. You can contact her by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.