Lean Manufacturing Efficiency

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

lean manufacturing tool board example

Improving manufacturing efficiency requires eliminating waste. What is waste? Anything that is not adding value to the product or service. This value must also be value that the customer is willing to pay for; any added cost or effort that the customer is not willing to pay for is also waste.

How can the waste in manufacturing be found and eliminated? The most effective tools for improving manufacturing efficiency are probably those that were developed as a part of the Toyota Production System (TPS), also known as lean manufacturing.

Manufacturing Efficiency and Lean Manufacturing Methods

The foundation of lean manufacturing is finding and eliminating waste. There are over two dozen lean methods that can be used to accomplish this, many of which work best when used in conjunction with other lean methods. Of these numerous tools for improving manufacturing efficiency, two of the most common are 5S and Kaizen.

Manufacturing Efficiency and 5S

5S step-process graphic5S is a five-stage approach to cleaning up and organizing a workplace, famously including simply sweeping the floor. What does that have to do with improving manufacturing efficiency? Plenty – but 5S involves a lot more than sweeping the floor.

The five stages of 5S are:

  1. Sort
  2. Set In Order
  3. Shine (clean)
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain

What are these five stages, and what do they accomplish when applied to a manufacturing process?

  • Sort means to separate items into categories of:

    • those things that are needed on-hand;
    • those that can be stored remotely;
    • those that are no longer needed and may be thrown out.

    This ensures that needed tools, dies, equipment, supplies, and materials are handy, and those that are not needed are out of the way.

  • Set in order means to arrange needed items so that they are stores close to where they are needed, and organized visually so that they can easily be found when needed – and so that they can be easily returned to their proper storage location.

    Set in order requires visual organization. The proper storage location for every item should be known, even by someone who is new in the job. This is typically accomplished with color coding, labels, and a custom label printer such as a DuraLabel printer.

  • Shine means to clean up. Imagine a machine that is greasy, oily, and dirty; once it is cleaned, any oil leaks become easy to spot. That means problems can be caught sooner, and the machine can be kept running at peak performance longer.

  • Standardize means to document the practices and procedures used to keep the workplace cleaned up and organized. Documented procedures are easier to teach to new employees, and easier to maintain in the next step, Sustain.

  • Sustain means to monitor and inspect the workplace, and to repeat the first four steps again over time. This ensures that the standards are being followed, and that those standards that have been established are actually keeping the workplace in a good condition.

Not only does 5S make safety hazards easier to spot, and thus remedy, it helps to avoid OSHA citations. OSHA has been issuing citations for a lack of adequate housekeeping more frequently. Applying 5S principles will help avoid OSHA penalties, in addition to helping improve manufacturing efficiency.

Manufacturing Efficiency and Kaizen

How do you know what specifically needs to be done to improve manufacturing efficiency? That's where Kaizen will help.

Kaizen is a system of continual improvement that uses suggestions to generate an on-going stream of small improvements. The suggestions can come from anyone, including your engineering staff and even your customers, but in most cases they come from those who are closest to getting the work done: your machine operators, delivery drivers, and maintenance staff. Because these are small changes that can be acted on quickly, the benefits quickly add up to produce significant improvements in manufacturing efficiency.

It is important that those making suggestions see those suggestions quickly implemented. The greatest motivator to get people to make suggestions is seeing their suggestions implemented, and knowing they've made a difference. Of course, some ideas may not be good ideas, and some may not be technically feasible. In those cases, it is important to talk with the person making the suggestion, explaining why that particular suggestion won't work, and gaining a better understanding of the underlying problem that the person pointed out.

Now that you have the workplace cleaned up, and you are getting a steady stream of suggestions that are helping to improve manufacturing efficiency, what else can be done?

Foundations For Improving Manufacturing Efficiency

Using lean to improve manufacturing efficiency requires a two-prong approach. Applying lean practices such as 5S and Kaizen are just one part of what needs to be done. There also needs to be a cultural shift toward lean thinking. Lean is not just about applying certain practices, it is about changing how we think about the workplace, our co-workers, and our customers. Here are some examples:

Improving Manufacturing Efficiency Through Culture Change

  • Make The Customer Your Focus: The customer is the reason your company exists. Without customers, the doors will be closed and locked. So focus on the customer! What does the customer value? How can you provide a better value for the customer? Every decision should take into consideration the impact on the customer. If it does not benefit the customer, then it is waste and needs to be eliminated.

  • Eliminating Waste – The focus of lean is on eliminating waste. Train your employees to recognize waste. Waste exists in every part of an organization, and efforts to identify and eliminate waste never end.

  • Standardize Work: Find the best way to do a job, then create formal standards that ensure those best methods are always followed.

  • Genchi Genbutsu: This is the practice of going to where the problem is, in order to learn the facts yourself. Managers tend to stay in their offices and make decisions based on information that is reported to them. However, more effective decisions can be made if the person making them is familiar with the location and situation. Genchi Genbutsu means to physically go to the location where there is a problem or question, see the facts yourself, achieve a consensus, and make the right decisions. In addition, being personally familiar with what is happening helps managers do the things that are necessary to make sure all goals are reached as quickly as possible.

  • Respect For People: Managers often have knowledge that is not available to the workers operating the machines or processes. However, those workers also have knowledge that managers don't have. Having respect for others, and taking worker suggestions and problems seriously, is critical for lean to be successful. A culture of mutual trust, and a willingness to help other people reach their objectives, is important.

Manufacturing Efficiency Improvement – Helpful Lean Practices

  • We've talked about 5S and Kaizen. There are many other lean methods and practices. The following is a short summary of a few of the lean methods that others have found to be useful for improving manufacturing efficiency Not every lean method is appropriate for every business, but you may be surprised to find lean methods you had not considered will actually deliver significant benefits.

  • Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) - TPM assigns the responsibility for preventative and routine maintenance to the same people who operate that particular equipment. This places the people who are the most familiar with the machine in charge of its care.

  • Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) – This lean method applies when a machine or process needs to be changed to produce something different. The principle is to reduce down time (one kind of waste) as much as possible, by doing as much of the change-over work as possible prior to the start of the change-over in the production line.

  • Just In Time (JIT) / Kanban – The idea in these systems is to minimize inventory by using a system in which demand pulls products and activities through the production process. As a result, products are not manufactured, and activities do not take place, until they are actually needed.

  • Poka Yoke – We know that errors and poor quality result in waste. Poka yoke involves designing a process such that mistakes are impossible, or so that mistakes are discovered immediately as a natural part of the production process. The ideal result is perfect quality without the need for inspections.

  • Visual Communication – Visual communication is the most effective type of communication. Whether the message is an OSHA-required safety message, or a daily maintenance list for a machine, having the message at the location where it is needed and when it is needed is critical. That's why labels and signs are so important – and that's why having a DuraLabel customer label printer should be at the top of your list. DuraLabel printers provide a reliable, easy-to-use way to make all of the workplace labels and signs you need. Call 888.326.9244 today for more information.

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