There are a lot of great ideas to explore in lean. So, where should you begin?
One way to start is to survey the most important lean tools, with a brief description and a short explanation of how each tool can improve your manufacturing operations.
If a tool captures your interest or resonates with you in some way – explore it further to decide if it is something to pursue now…or later. Many of these tools can be successfully used in isolation, which makes it much easier to get started. On the other hand, the benefits will compound as more tools are used, as they support and reinforce each other.
5S organizes the work area:
5S eliminates waste that results from a poorly organized work area (e.g., wasting time looking for a tool).
Andon is a visual feedback system for the plant floor that indicates production status, alerts when assistance is needed, and empowers operators to stop the production process.
Andon acts as a real-time communication tool for the plant floor that brings immediate attention to problems as they occur – so they can be instantly addressed.
Bottleneck Analysis identifies which part of the manufacturing process limits the overall throughput and improves the performance of that part of the process.
Bottleneck Analysis improves throughput by strengthening the weakest link in the manufacturing process.
Continuous Flow is manufacturing where work-in-process smoothly flows through production with minimal (or no) buffers between steps of the manufacturing process.
Continuous Flow eliminates many forms of waste (e.g., inventory, waiting time, and transport).
Gemba is a philosophy that reminds us to get out of our offices and spend time on the plant floor – the place where real action occurs.
Gemba promotes a deep and thorough understanding of real-world manufacturing issues – by first-hand observation and by talking with plant floor employees.
Heijunka is a form of production scheduling that purposely manufactures in much smaller batches by sequencing (mixing) product variants within the same process.
Heijunka reduces lead times (since each product or variant is manufactured more frequently) and inventory (since batches are smaller).
Hoshin Kanri aligns the goals of the company (Strategy), with the plans of middle management (Tactics) and the work performed on the plant floor (Action).
Hoshin Kanri ensures that progress towards strategic goals is consistent and thorough – eliminating the waste that comes from poor communication and inconsistent direction.
Jidoka is the idea that manufacturers should design equipment to partially automate the manufacturing process (partial automation is typically much less expensive than full automation) and to automatically stop when defects are detected.
After Jidoka, workers can frequently monitor multiple stations (reducing labor costs) and many quality issues can be detected immediately (improving quality).
Just-In-Time pulls parts through production based on customer demand instead of pushing parts through production based on projected demand. Relies on many lean tools, such as Continuous Flow, Heijunka, Kanban, Standardized Work, and Takt Time.
Just-In-Time is highly effective in reducing inventory levels. Improves cash flow and reduces space requirements.
Kaizen is a strategy where employees work together proactively to achieve regular, incremental improvements in the manufacturing process.
Kaizen combines the collective talents of a company to create an engine for continually eliminating waste from manufacturing processes.
Kanban is a method of regulating the flow of goods both within the factory and with outside suppliers and customers. Based on automatic replenishment through signal cards that indicate when more goods are needed.
Kanban eliminates waste from inventory and overproduction. Can eliminate the need for physical inventories, instead relying on signal cards to indicate when more goods need to be ordered.
KPIs are metrics designed to track and encourage progress towards critical goals of the organization. Strongly promoted KPIs can be extremely powerful drivers of behavior – so it is important to carefully select KPIs that will drive desired behavior.
The best manufacturing KPIs:
Muda is anything in the manufacturing process that does not add value from the customer’s perspective.
Muda doesn’t help. Muda means ‘waste’. The elimination of muda (waste) is the primary focus of lean manufacturing.
OEE is a framework for measuring productivity loss for a given manufacturing process. Three categories of loss are tracked:
OEE provides a benchmark/baseline and a means to track progress in eliminating waste from a manufacturing process. 100% OEE means perfect production (manufacturing only good parts, as fast as possible, with no downtime).
PDCA is an iterative methodology for implementing improvements:
PDCA applies a scientific approach to making improvements:
Poka-Yoke designs error detection and prevention into production processes with the goal of achieving zero defects.
It is difficult (and expensive) to find all defects through inspection, and correcting defects typically gets significantly more expensive at each stage of production.
Root Cause Analysis is a problem solving methodology that focuses on resolving the underlying problem instead of applying quick fixes that only treat immediate symptoms of the problem. A common approach is to ask why five times – each time moving a step closer to discovering the true underlying problem.
Root Cause Analysis helps to ensure that a problem is truly eliminated by applying corrective action to the “root cause” of the problem.
Single-Minute Exchange of Die reduces setup (changeover) time to less than 10 minutes. SMED techniques include:
SMED enables manufacturing in smaller lots, reduces inventory, and improves customer responsiveness.
The Six Big Losses are six categories of productivity loss that are almost universally experienced in manufacturing:
The Six Big Losses provide a framework for attacking the most common causes of waste in manufacturing.
SMART Goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Specific.
SMART Goals help to ensure that goals are effective.
Standardized Work is documented procedures for manufacturing that capture best practices (including the time to complete each task). It must be “living” documentation that is easy to change.
Standardized Work eliminates waste by consistently applying best practices. Forms a baseline for future improvement activities.
Takt Time is the pace of production (e.g., manufacturing one piece every 34 seconds) that aligns production with customer demand. Calculated as Planned Production Time / Customer Demand.
Takt Time provides a simple, consistent, and intuitive method of pacing production. Is easily extended to provide an efficiency goal for the plant floor (Actual Pieces / Target Pieces).
TPM is a holistic approach to maintenance that focuses on proactive and preventative maintenance to maximize the operational time of equipment. TPM blurs the distinction between maintenance and production by placing a strong emphasis on empowering operators to help maintain their equipment.
TPM creates a shared responsibility for equipment that encourages greater involvement by plant floor workers. In the right environment, this can be very effective in improving productivity (increasing uptime, reducing cycle times, and eliminating defects).
Value Stream Mapping is a tool used to visually map the flow of production. Shows the current and future state of processes in a way that highlights opportunities for improvement.
Value Stream Mapping exposes waste in the current processes and provides a roadmap for improvement through the future state.
A Visual Factory uses visual indicators, displays, and controls throughout the manufacturing plant to improve the communication of information.
Visual Factory makes the state and condition of manufacturing processes easily accessible and very clear – to everyone.