Lean production is an approach to manufacturing that is designed to remove inefficiencies while maintaining quality. The goal is to remove waste from manufacturing processes and create organizations that continuously improve until they reach what is described in lean terms as ‘perfection’. Done well, it cuts operating costs, drives efficiency and increases profits using these top manufacturing tools.
Lean manufacturing isn’t a single process or mechanism. It is a collection of dozens of tools which lean practitioners pick according to the specific problem they are trying to solve. Below are 10 manufacturing tools and strategies every manufacturer should have at the ready.
The five S’s – sort, set, shine, standardize and sustain – are followed in order to reduce clutter, ensure items can be found and are ready to use, and to set out clear processes that are consistently followed.
The 5 why’s are used to identify the root cause of a problem. Each time a ‘why’ is asked – ideally five times or fewer – a layer is pulled back getting closer to the root of the problem. It doesn’t require any statistical analysis, so it is an easy place to start when facing a problem for the first time.
Kaizen cultivates continuous improvement in quality, technology, processes, productivity, culture, and safety. Employees at all levels work together to review, analyze, and redesign processes to make them better. While individual improvements are unlikely to deliver major change, a continuous stream of small improvements adds up to a big impact.
Kanban, or a pull system, is a visual scheduling system designed to regulate the flow of goods to the production line as needed. Employees have what they need, where they need it, when they need it – but no more. It eliminates unnecessary inventory.
Plan, do, check, act is an organized and logical approach to improving the quality and effectiveness of business processes. Its strength is its simplicity, providing a clear structure that guides the process of problem solving and process improvement.
Poka-Yoke means mistake proofing and it provides a simple method for preventing and detecting errors. It refers to any process or device which helps an employee avoid mistakes either by preventing them, correcting them or drawing attention to them as they occur.
Standard work processes are part and parcel of lean. Standardized work creates and documents a set process for carrying out tasks – the steps a team should take, materials required and so on. It helps teams to achieve their takt time.
Takt time is the average rate at which a product needs to be completed to meet demand and provides a simple and consistent method for pacing production. It is calculated by dividing the time available for production by the units required to meet customer demand.
Total productive maintenance aims to maximize the operational efficiency of equipment, ensuring no accidents, defects, breakdowns or delays. All employees have an active role in preventive and predictive maintenance, resulting in better productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction.
A value stream map is a visual tool that sets out an end-to-end process, current performance and areas of concern. It should highlight potential opportunities to reduce waste and also suggest possible solutions.
Digital manufacturing solutions have a dual role in lean production environments. First, lean manufacturing tools rely on accurate data; digital manufacturing solutions provide companies have vast amounts of data about their people, processes, and assets at their fingertips. They are better placed to uncover process problems, spot bottlenecks and to model potential solutions. Meanwhile, the practical tools offered by digital manufacturing offer even greater scope for improving production. Process automation and robotics help streamline production and minimize mistakes for example, while augmented reality offers more effective methods of training employees and providing work instructions.
At its simplest, lean manufacturing is about making firms more efficient, more effective and more profitable. And in equally simple terms, those are the aims of digital manufacturing solutions. Employing lean manufacturing tools alongside next-generation technologies offers manufacturers a real opportunity to achieve even greater efficiencies and process improvements, while creating a competitive edge.