To many small manufacturers, lean manufacturing is something that companies the size of Toyota or Boeing implement. And many small manufacturers that do adopt lean practices do so at a tactical level. Don’t be one of those companies.
If you embrace lean manufacturing as part of your company’s overall business strategy, long-term strategic benefits are possible including increased profits, decreased costs and long-term efficiency gains. On December 9, we spoke to a group of manufacturers in Connecticut at an event jointly hosted by Exact and Central Connecticut State University’s Institute of Technology and Business Development.
During our workshop, we addressed the fact that lean manufacturing is a journey, one that must involve the entire company and include a true cultural change (yes, even a two-person shop has a culture). In fact, judging from the fact that attendees included lawyers and outside consultants who represent manufacturers, it’s clear that others outside your company are eager to join the journey too.
Success with lean starts with an understanding that one size doesn’t fit all and a one-off approach may not work. Many have heard of concepts such as value stream mapping, one piece flow/continuous flow or 5S initiatives, but keep in mind that “tools” are not meant to exist in isolation. Success depends on a comprehensive, but not necessarily complicated, strategy that is uniquely suited to your business.
Without oversimplifying, the lean journey involves three major steps, briefly described below:
Phase 1: Prepare to launch a lean program. Owners and key stakeholders must start by developing a three-year business plan that provides a roadmap and structure for their lean journey. You start by determining what your business is good at doing, what you want to improve and, most important, you must get all employees on board for what lies ahead.
Phase 2: Get started with the basics: develop part families, eliminate unnecessary parts and design the first lean cell (sets of machines that are grouped by the products or parts they produce). Simply put, you’re looking for parts that are similar in shape and geometry or that are produced using similar processes – this is one of the most important steps in the process. You may take 1000 parts and turn them into 30 part families. This step will enable you to eliminate unnecessary parts that can disrupt production and provide a roadmap for how you’ll create a more automated production flow. From here you’re ready to design the first cell, including the team, part family, machines, materials required, etc.
Phase 3: Build out the lean program. Using the results from the first cell as a blueprint, you’ll extend the model to other areas of the shop floor, starting with the next part family. Running each cell independently enables you to see which cells are profit centers and which are not. It also enables you to see waste, from overproduction that wastes materials to unnecessary employee waiting time and maintaining costly inventory that customers haven’t ordered.
Implementing and executing a lean manufacturing plan happens over time and with careful planning. But most of all, be sure your expectations and plans are attainable, understandable, measurable, and real for your company. This shouldn’t be pie in the sky – it should help you be more efficient and profitable. Not every rule or tool associated with lean will apply to your business, so take time to figure out what works best. You may not be the size of Toyota, but there’s no reason you can’t benefit from the same thinking that made them a model for manufacturing and profitability.
About the Author Dave Lechleitner is a senior enterprise resource planning (ERP) professional with over 20 years of experience in extensive pre-and post-sale consulting, presales and management, cost accounting and deployment of ERP solutions at all levels of a manufacturing enterprise. He is certified in lean manufacturing, and also serves as the current chair of the Software Technology Council for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA).