How Lean Principles Have Transformed the Manufacturing Industry

How Lean Principles Have Transformed the Manufacturing Industry

Although pioneered by the car manufacturing industry in the 20th century, lean has become ubiquitous in almost all industries. Almost every industry has slightly different understandings and implementations of lean, but at the heart of it, lean principles call for the elimination of waste in business or manufacturing processes to provide the most value to the customer efficiently and using as few resources as possible.

Lean principles were originally applied in the manufacturing industry and their use has transformed the way businesses and companies manufacture their products. To understand the transformations taking place, we will look at which lean principles are being used as well as how they are being used to bring about these transformations.

Eliminating Waste

Eliminating waste is one of the core lean principles. In the manufacturing process, eliminating as much waste as possible not only leads to a better more streamlined process but also helps businesses and companies save money.

Most of the things that lead to waste in the manufacturing industry have to do with time, human resources, and materials. Time wastage can appear almost anywhere in the manufacturing process, but it often appears when there are product changeovers and in the transportation of both materials and finished products to customers.

Time wastage can also occur when the different workstations are located too far from each other meaning that products that have passed one stage have to be transported to another department that might be far away. In addition to wasting a lot of time, doing this also reduces the amount of time machines are actually working, thereby reducing the company’s or business’s production capacity.

This type of waste has been reduced by placing different manufacturing departments and stages closer together as well as using automation that forces the continuous flow of products. The continuous flow ensures there is always a product, or several of them, moving through the production line. Doing this increases efficiency because the next product can start being worked on as soon as the previous one passes a certain stage.

When it comes to materials, waste can be introduced by overproduction, overprocessing, and the slow movement of materials through the production process. Overproduction happens when a company produces too many products without the requisite demand to support this supply. This can lead to a bottleneck and cause the manufacturing process to either slow down or stop altogether. This type of bottleneck can also cause another type of waste: higher inventory costs.

Increased inventory management and storage costs that do not provide any value to the business or company cost businesses a lot of money, especially when the business is still producing and not moving their products fast enough.

Overproduction is rectified by doing better market research and using better forecasting tools and strategies.

Lastly, the wastage of materials can also occur due to defects. Defects happen due to the use of the wrong types and quantities of materials, errors due to defective equipment, undertrained and undermotivated employees, as well as the incorrect assembly of products. Businesses that want to reduce defects that lead to wastage can do a waste audit. A waste audit helps businesses identify the source of their waste, thereby helping them rectify any issues that come up. Companies can also put better quality control and quality assurance practices in place to catch any errors that happen.

Identifying and eliminating waste is important no matter the type of industry you work in. Lean principles, when applied correctly, can help with both of these. To learn more about eliminating waste using lean principles, look at this article from Kettering University Online.

Continuous Improvement

Waste reduction and continuous improvement go together. As a business improves its processes, it is better able to reduce waste by identifying which processes are inefficient and eliminating bottlenecks that exist and that are unearthed during the identification phase.

Continuous improvement is often tied to seeking perfection by improving processes that provide the most value. In manufacturing, continuous improvement starts by measuring and monitoring each process in the manufacturing pipeline. Doing this helps businesses see where gaps and inefficiencies exist.

With a clear understanding of where everything stands, business owners can start looking for ways to reduce the time, effort, and cost it takes to complete the production process. Additionally, businesses can find out which improvements will have the most impact on their business and work on those first.

Consistent Output

To eliminate waste, the manufacturing industry is taking advantage of level production. This means that they are trying to keep their output consistent every day. By using average order and production numbers, they can keep their output steady and do not have to rush to ramp up production when there is a spike in demand.

The way this works is that manufacturers place any excess products in inventory and label them fluctuating stocks. This happens when they produce more than they sell. The opposite happens when they sell more than they produce, as what they need can be sourced from the existing inventory instead of ramping up production.

The main advantage of doing it this way is that it eliminates the need to keep a large inventory with no idea when it is going to be sold. This way, a manufacturer is able to meet demand when required and is able to eliminate costs associated with storing inventory for an unknown period.

To do this correctly, manufacturers are using software to calculate and adjust their production rates in relation to their sales numbers.

Eliminating Mistakes Before They Happen

Eliminating mistakes before they happen, also known as mistake-proofing, is a technique used to introduce quality into a manufacturing process. Basically, it focuses on creating manufacturing processes that ensure errors do not occur. This can be done through the standardization of an assembly or manufacturing process or, in the case of a continuous production flow, providing just the materials needed for that stage of the production process.

For example, if there are two bolts required for a product’s assembly, providing just two bolts will let an employee see at a glance if they have used both of them instead of guessing.

Eliminating mistakes before they happen, especially in cases where there is some disassembly required to correct the mistake, saves both time and money and keeps the production process moving. Additionally, it reduces customer complaints, which can take additional resources to rectify.

Increasing Use of Technology

There are several ways the use of technology can help eliminate waste and help with continuous improvement. One of these is automation. The reduction of manual work saves both time and effort in almost all manufacturing processes. Using the right software, businesses can connect all their systems to improve the flow of information and data across all their departments. This connection helps departments work seamlessly together and reduces time wastage.

Technology is also being used in the automated detection of errors. Businesses set up machines to automatically detect errors and defects which eliminates human error from this critical step. Hiring people to check every product for defects slows the manufacturing process down thereby introducing time wastage.

When machines are used for this step, humans are only required if the machine alerts them there is a problem with a certain product. This way, only a limited number of products actually need a hand inspection, which makes this process a lot more efficient.

Seeing People as a Critical Resource

Manufacturing is getting increasingly automated, with the value of human labor falling as more machines are introduced to the manufacturing process. It is therefore not surprising that a lot of business owners or managers do not think about people when they think about the application of lean manufacturing principles.

It is important that businesses see people as critical to the implementation of lean principles. Humans are best placed to identify any deficiencies in your manufacturing process. Additionally, if businesses do not value their employees, they will not perform at the levels expected of them, and that introduces inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the manufacturing process.

While it is true that dealing with people is a lot more complicated than dealing with predictable machines, most of the issues that arise can be rectified through proper communication, setting proper expectations, and assigning specific tasks to specific employees.

The use of lean principles in the manufacturing industry has led to a lot of changes, with the biggest one being the elimination of different types of waste in the production process. By optimizing their processes and procedures, businesses have also been able to make them more efficient and increase output, both of which have led to a decrease in manufacturing costs. An important takeaway is that the optimization of the manufacturing process is a continuous process, and any additions or alterations to the process must be taken through the optimization process, much like older processes and procedures were to ensure they do not introduce what a business was trying to get away from by incorporating lean principles.