The Global Leader in Workplace Labeling & Signage
Written by Kristin Sladich
To make a manufacturing process more efficient, a company needs to understand "What is lean?"
Lean is short for lean manufacturing. It is an industrial practice where manufacturing facilities focus on waste reduction to create more value for the customer. There are several different lean techniques, allowing each organization to fit lean into their distinct production process. Four common lean techniques are 5S, Kaizen, Kanban and TPM.
Lean manufacturing provides higher productivity, improved customer service, lower lead times, increased employee morale and a safer work environment. Each of these contributes to the most significant benefit of lean manufacturing, increased profits. These profits can be passed on to customers through lower prices to create an edge against competition.
The 5S System is a Japanese organization method that stems from five Japanese words: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke. Translated to English, they are: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. These words represent a five-step process to reduce waste and increase productivity and efficiency. The first step, Sort, involves eliminating clutter and unnecessary items from the work space. Next, workers must Set in Order by ensuring that there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. The Shine step entails cleaning the work space and regularly maintaining this state. Standardizing should be done to make all work processes consistent so any worker can step in and perform a job if necessary. The final step, Sustain, involves maintaining and reinforcing the previous four steps.
Kaizen is a business practice that focuses on making constant improvements. With Kaizen, there is always room for improvement and workers should constantly look to improve the workplace. This philosophy also emphasizes that each individual's ideas are important and all employees should be involved in the process to better the company. An organization that practices Kaizen welcomes, and never criticizes, suggestions for improvement at all levels. This creates an environment of mutual respect and open communication.
Kanban relies on visual signals to control inventory. A Kanban card is placed in a visible area and signals when inventory needs to be replenished. With this process, products are assembled only when there is demand from the consumer, which allows companies to reduce inventory and waste. The Kanban method is highly responsive to customers because products can be manufactured by responding to customer needs instead of trying to predict their future needs.
TPM stands for Total Productive Maintenance and is meant to reduce costs by extending the life of equipment using preventative maintenance. With TPM, machine operators are responsible for routine maintenance of their machines and equipment. The frequent inspection of equipment prevents machine malfunctions and, if issues do arise, allows them to be identified as soon as possible and fixed before becoming serious. Using TPM reduces unnecessary time and money spent on new equipment.
Now that the question "what is lean?" has been introduced, it would be useful to know the best way to put lean techniques into practice. The first step in implementing lean is to identify the customers' needs. After doing this, the manufacturing process should be evaluated and steps that do not provide value to the customer should be eliminated. Next, the remaining steps should be organized to ensure the product flows smoothly through the production line to the customer. The final step is to continue working toward a state of perfection, where all of the customers' needs are met and no waste occurs.
With this information, organizations have an overview of the question "what is lean?" and can get started on implementing it as soon as possible to create a more efficient workplace.