Lean manufacturing—often simply “lean,” for short—has exploded in recent years as companies worldwide work to improve efficiency, increase profits, and create a safer work environment. Here are some of the most popular tools—and how companies have used them effectively throughout their facilities.
Numerous companies have used 5S effectively: Boeing uses a variation of 5S to simplify operations and improve efficiency, while the Harley-Davidson Motor Company relies on 5S to save money through improved safety and streamlined manufacturing
HOW IT HELPS Employers should save time and improve organization, and employees may become more efficient as they find tools more quickly, stay safer in organized work areas, and improve efficiency through standard procedures.
WHAT IT IS Also known as Continuous Improvement, Kaizen offers a strategy for finding and implementing regular improvement throughout the manufacturing process. Popularized by Toyota®, Kaizen relies on employees at all levels making suggestions for improvements throughout a company—and subsequently communicating those ideas to upper management. As those suggestions are analyzed and approved, companies can cut waste and improve morale.
HOW IT HELPS Employees feel more engaged, invested, connected, and committed. When Toyota implemented Kaizen at one of its U.S. plants, the auto maker received more than 75,000 suggestions from 7,000 employees for improving the manufacturing process; Toyota subsequently implemented 99% of those ideas.
WHAT IT IS Kanban—translated from Japanese, “visual cards”—controls the flow of materials within a supply chain. Most commonly, Kanban uses cards and other visual signals to adjust inventory or communicate tasks in response to customer demand. Spotify® uses Kanban to schedule programming tasks, visually review a department’s workload, and prioritize work requests as they are received. In turn, the company can quickly analyze a team’s capacity for new projects and make more accurate forecasts going forward.
HOW IT HELPS At its core, Kanban is designed to reduce waste and maximize efficiency. Depending on how many cards are used in a particular process, Kanban can tell manufacturers when to cut back on production—or, when cards are moving quickly through a workflow—ramp up productivity.
4. Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)
WHAT IT IS Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) is a wide-ranging philosophy that promotes proactive and preventative maintenance. The Seven Pillars of TPM offer techniques for implementing the strategy:
Autonomous Maintenance: Operators keep tabs on their equipment and work areas
Process and Machine Improvement: Operators report information to team leaders; that data is then used to prioritize maintenance and improvements
Preventative Maintenance: Operators and team leaders work together to establish maintenance tasks and schedules.
Early Management of New Equipment: Based on maintenance reports and the equipment lifecycle, team leaders take proactive approaches to maintenance.
Process Quality Management: Operators and team leaders alike share responsibility for maintenance, creating buy-in from all involved employees.
Education and Training: Machine operators are continually educated on maintenance, safety, and proper usage.
Safety and Sustained Success: Employees throughout a facility are encouraged to focus on safety and, where applicable, ongoing machine maintenance.
WHAT IT IS
Designed for workers on the plant floor, Andon offers a real-time visual feedback system that shows the status of a machine or process—and alerts others when and where assistance is required. Most commonly, Andon uses a combination of lights and sounds to communicate status updates, issues, and challenges.
HOW IT HELPS Popular on assembly lines (including those run by Toyota and Nissan), Andon communicates problems as they arise and allows employees to alter the production process, as necessary. By empowering employees on the front lines, Andon keeps workers engaged with their tasks—all while working as an effective quality control system.
WHAT IT IS Roughly translated as “The Real Place” in Japanese, Gemba encourages facility management to connect with employees wherever they work, whether on a plant floor or the assembly line, and find problems and sources of waste. This is most commonly done through a regularly-scheduled Gemba Walk to assess a plant’s productivity and learn about ongoing issues. Employers should use the following five rules for conducting a successful Gemba Walk:
Have a specific purpose. Know why you’re taking the Gemba Walk, and have an idea of what you’re looking for.
Be familiar with the area you’re visiting. Know what goes on, how it happens, and the purpose it serves before starting the Gemba Walk.
Understand the overall process. You should be familiar with the machinery in place, the tasks it facilitates, and where it fits into the broader manufacturing process.
Correctly understand what you’re seeing. Talk with workers to see if what you’re seeing is an accurate reflection of the typical process. Are there defects slowing employees down, glaring inefficiencies, or other problems that need to be addressed?
Know what to ask. Have a list of questions to better understand the work: What is the task, who performs each task, where is a task taking place, when is the task done, why is it being done, and how is it being performed?
HOW IT HELPS Gemba encourages a deep, thorough, and expansive understanding of manufacturing inefficiencies and issues through first-hand observation and discussions with key employees.
WHAT IT IS Heijunka is a form of production scheduling that encourages a steady, predictable flow of small-batch manufacturing, rather than less frequent, larger production processes for goods and components. Toyota® uses Heijunka to help schedule manufacturing, with each step reflecting a different model’s consumer demand.
HOW IT HELPS The smaller-scale focus on production improves efficiency at all levels of the manufacturing process. Certain items won’t become obsolete before they’re needed at later stages of the manufacturing process, and those later steps won’t be slowed down by manufacturing delays earlier in the production cycle. Meanwhile, employers won’t have to find room for excess inventory and can account for productivity as demand for a product fluctuates.
8. Hoshin Kanri
WHAT IT IS Rather than focus on the day-to-day actions within an organization, Hoshin Kanri takes a big-picture look at a company’s direction by ensuring its goals align with the strategies outlined by middle management and the everyday work being done within a facility. The top-down approach emphasizes steady communication for explaining visions, developing and implementing policy, and receiving feedback. Printer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard began using Hoshin Kanri in the 1970s to ensure workers performed tasks that contributed directly to the company's broader mission and established goals.
HOW IT HELPS Without Hoshin Kanri, it becomes exponentially more difficult to implement other lean tools. The practice helps ensure that all employees within a company understand the organization’s vision and march in lockstep toward a common goal. In doing so, organizations may eliminate wasteful processes and tasks that don’t contribute toward the larger vision.
WHAT IT IS Ishikawa Diagrams (also called Cause-and-Effect Diagrams) help identify the root cause of an inefficiency or problem within a facility. The easiest, most common way to create an Ishikawa Diagram is to be guided by asking the question, “Why?” to better understand the heart of an issue. Each answer lays the foundation for the next iteration of “Why?” This is commonly referred to as the 5 Whys, so named because it has been observed to take roughly five instances of asking “Why?” to find the root cause of an issue.
HOW IT HELPS Ishikawa Diagrams help uncover potential problems within a system and can help administrators understand how a broader system works, as well as its impact on other parts of the system.
WHAT IT IS There may be few more important ideas within the lean process than that of Muda, or wastefulness within the manufacturing process. Every lean tool, in one way or another, is designed to eliminate waste. Specifically, lean is focused on ridding the workplace of seven wastes, broken down as follows:
Overproduction: When items are produced before they are needed
Inventory: When too many or too few items are kept on hand
Waiting: When people and machines wait for another part of the process to complete
Motion: When people and machines engage in unnecessary, wasteful movements
Transportation: When items or parts are moved unnecessarily or inefficiently throughout the process
Reworking: When human error causes processes to be repeated
Overprocessing: When more work goes into a product or process than is required by the customer
HOW IT HELPS Eliminating muda is the heart of lean. With less waste, employees can be more productive, thrive in a safer work environment, and quickly understand standardized procedures and policies. In all, eliminating waste improves a company's bottom line, reduces downtime, and improves efficiency.
11. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)
WHAT IT IS Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) provides a measuring stick for understanding the efficiency of each step in the manufacturing process. A machine or processes’ efficiency is calculated by analyzing downtime, performance, and output quality. The OEE is then represented as a percentage, with 0 being the most inefficient score possible and 100 representing perfect production.
HOW IT HELPS Knowing a machine or processes’ OEE helps employers find inefficiencies in the production cycle, set goals for improvement, and track progress as changes are made.
12. Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA)
WHAT IT IS Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) offers a standardized framework for problem-solving and improving efficiency. The FOUR STEPS in the PDCA cycle are:
1. Plan A problem or inefficiency is identified, and all impacted employees work together to develop a plan for making improvements. 2. Do The plan is implemented as a pilot program to study its efficacy and impacts on the broader production process. 3. Check The plan’s changes and impacts are reviewed to see if further improvements can be made—and to see if any unintended consequences arose. 4. Act The plan is incorporated on a wider level if it has successfully addressed the initial problem; if not, the cycle starts over at the Plan phase to account for other factors.
HOW IT HELPS PDCA reduces confusion about how to approach, implement, analyze, and review solutions to problems—and helps facilities incorporate improvements in an efficient manner.
13. Standardized Work
WHAT IT IS Standardized Work focuses on finding best practices for an organization or process, documenting those procedures, implementing them on a wider scale, and communicating those tasks or methods to employees. That communication is usually accomplished through visual cues that break down the best practice, the sequences for following it, where the work is done, and the specific procedures for accomplishing certain tasks.
HOW IT HELPS Standardized Work is designed specifically to improve efficiency. The more a company develops, implements, and communicates best practices, the more efficient—and the less wasteful—its employees will be.
14. Visual Factory
WHAT IT IS A Visual Factory relies on visual communication to clearly share key information with workers. The communication will vary among work areas within an organization, not to mention among disparate companies, depending on the needs of a specific work area or organization. Organizations may use electronic display boards, color-coded floor marking, signs, labels, and other tools to efficiently communicate important information, such as how to operate machinery, the status of a process, where to find storage areas, and how to move throughout a facility.
HOW IT HELPS Employees can increase productivity and efficiency when communication is clear, direct, and simple to understand.
15. ABC Inventory
WHAT IT IS ABC Inventory helps a company understand the relative importance of various items throughout a production process, prioritize those items, and track inventory costs. In short, ABC Inventory ranks items into three categories:
“A” items are the most important for an organization, each requiring more time and economic investment to ensure maximum efficiency. “B” items are less important and, accordingly, require less of an investment. By separating “A” and “B” items, organizations can allocate resources and make strategic decisions accordingly. “C” items are the least important items in a manufacturing process.
HOW IT HELPS ABC Inventory helps companies track and prioritize their inventory more efficiently, which guides decisions around resource investment and cost-benefit analyses.
16. Bottleneck Analysis
WHAT IT IS As the name implies, a Bottleneck Analysis looks for constraints and barriers that slow down a larger production process—and develops methods that account for, remove, or otherwise mitigate that particular slowdown. There is no single established method for conducting a full-fledged Bottleneck Analysis; rather, a company may use other lean tools (such as the 5S System—see #1 or Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle—see #12) for developing a workable framework.
HOW IT HELPS A Bottleneck Analysis improves efficiency and productivity by locating the biggest obstacle in a process and giving employers the tools to remove that barrier.
17. Cellular Manufacturing
WHAT IT IS Cellular Manufacturing focuses on creating flow by breaking various steps in a process down into smaller “cells.” Each cell, in turn, uses the necessary combination of machines, people, and processes to focus on distinct, yet related tasks that fit into the larger manufacturing process. Medical equipment manufacturer Smiths Medical replaced its conveyor system with several cells to cut down on manufacturing floor space, increase output, and improve productivity.
HOW IT HELPS Cellular Manufacturing offers greater flexibility than standard assembly line production. Companies can adjust components of cells without disrupting the larger production process and can make quicker decisions that impact specific cells, without having to worry about ripple effects elsewhere in the operation.
18. Continuous Flow
WHAT IT IS Practicing Continuous Flow allows companies to run manufacturing processes with minimal interruption. In developing a Continuous Flow system, companies account for potential shutdowns and find workarounds that don’t stop production. For instance, an organization may invest in backup machines that turn on when a primary machine is taken offline for maintenance.
HOW IT HELPS With little downtime, a company can increase profitability, eliminate wasted inventory, and improve production.
WHAT IT IS Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are large computer systems that aid companies in decision-making. ERP systems do this by mining data, recording output, sharing information, and measuring progress—all information that companies can use to track efficiency and implement new processes.
HOW IT HELPS With an ERP system, facilities can save time that might otherwise be devoted to data collecting and analysis—and with the additional data, companies can use ERP systems to test possible solutions to slowdowns and other inefficiencies.
WHAT IT IS Jidoka empowers machines and employees to detect inefficiencies, slowdowns, breakdowns, and other abnormalities—and immediately stop work to course-correct. With Jidoka, employees don’t have to wait for a manager’s approval to stop production and fix a problem. Highway truck trailer manufacturer Doepker Industries implemented Jidoka in the early 2000s to maximize productivity, address ongoing manufacturing issues, and keep up with customer demand.
HOW IT HELPS Jidoka helps employees fix problems as they occur, which improves productivity, limits downtime, reduces the number of unusable products, and helps workers feel more invested in their tasks.
21. Just-In-Time (JIT)
WHAT IT IS Just-In-Time casts aside traditional thinking for a new approach to manufacturing: Rather than produce items to meet potential demand, items are made in response to actual, concrete customer demand.
HOW IT HELPS Just-In-Time cuts down on excess inventory, minimizes storage needs, and gives companies greater flexibility in their manufacturing processes.
22. Key Performance Indicator (KPI)
WHAT IT IS Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are important for measuring efficiency, waste, and productivity—and, in turn, tracking progress toward top-line goals within a facility.
HOW IT HELPS Clearly-defined KPIs quickly and easily communicate goals and progress to employees at all levels within an organization, thereby improving productivity and striving for greater efficiency.
23. Level Loading
WHAT IT IS Level Loading is a technique that balances the manufacturing process, so goods are produced at a steady, stable rate. This, in turn, ensures that other stages of the production process can happen at a constant, steady pace that doesn't rise or fall with swings in demand.
HOW IT HELPS Level loading cuts the need for excess inventory, and its steady schedule improves efficiency by allowing companies to plan and budget for the steady, predictable rate of production.
24. Mind Maps
WHAT IT IS Mind Maps are visual tools designed to organize and showcase connected ideas revolving around a certain task. Mind Maps can be organized to offer both high-level and granular looks at problems, all while breaking down complex challenges into easy-to-follow diagrams.
HOW IT HELPS Use Mind Maps to brainstorm, develop, and implement solutions to problems large and small. The diagrams can unlock new approaches to problem-solving, as well as unusual solutions—and their potential consequences.
WHAT IT IS Roughly translated as “inadvertent error prevention,” Poka-Yoke is a process designed to protect against errors and mistakes as items are manufactured. Employers use Poka-Yoke to detect errors and prevent defects throughout the production process, rather than after an item has been manufactured or a process completed.
HOW IT HELPS Poka-Yoke saves time and money that might otherwise go toward producing defective goods.
26. Root Cause Analysis
WHAT IT IS As the name implies, a Root Cause Analysis is a problem-solving method that works to find the underlying cause of a problem, rather than treat subsequent problems as they arise. Some companies use the 5 Whys (Ishikawa)—to diagnose a problem, while others trace the steps that led to a defect to find out where the problem began.
HOW IT HELPS A Root Cause Analysis can save companies money as they address problems with long-lasting fixes, rather than treat symptoms as they appear.
27. Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED)
WHAT IT IS Single-Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) offers a method for reducing setup or changeover time in a manufacturing process to less than 10 minutes. When implemented, SMED bridges the time gaps between production steps by altering and simplifying setup processes, eliminating wasteful steps, and developing standardized procedures. Auto maker Toyota® uses SMED to plan for changing the dies on transfer-stamping machines that create body parts for the company's various automobiles. The company managed to cut the process, which had once taken as long as three days, down to 10 minutes.
HOW IT HELPS SMED improves efficiency and saves time by cutting down on inessential processes, procedures, and steps; in turn, it enables a higher rate of production and reduces on-hand inventory.
28. Six Big Losses
WHAT IT IS Six Big Losses helps organizations identify and plan for the six most common categories of productivity loss:
Unplanned Stops occur when machines go offline due to unplanned events, such as a breakdown or when employees are not available to operate the equipment.
Planned Stops occur when machines are offline due to planned events, such as planned maintenance, safety inspections, or employee breaks.
Small Stops are when machines stop for a short duration of time to correct settings, unclog jams, and routine cleaning.
Slow Cycles occur when machines run slower than designed, usually because a piece of equipment is worn out, uses substandard parts, or when its operator is new and learning the system.
Production Rejects are defective parts produced in the routine course of production, usually due to operator error or incorrect settings.
Startup Rejects are defective parts produced as a machine turns on and starts up. These typically occur due to normal processes related to equipment startup and process changeovers.
HOW IT HELPS Knowing the Six Big Losses helps companies understand, study, and plan for some of the most common causes of manufacturing waste.
29. Smart Goals
WHAT IT IS SMART Goals give companies a criteria for developing useful, clear,and attainable goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for:
Specific: Goals should clearly outline what you hope to accomplish. Measurable: You should be able to track success with tangible, concrete measurements. Attainable: The goal should be realistic and achievable. Results-Focused: The goal should outline desired results. Time-Specific: Goals should have time spans or deadlines for tracking or measuring success.
HOW IT HELPS SMART Goals help companies create goals for worker productivity, time management, and improved efficiency.
30. Takt Time
WHAT IT IS Takt Time invites manufacturers to develop a rate of production that reflects consumer demand. Takt time doesn’t measure how long it takes to produce an item, but rather the pace at which items must be produced to meet consumer needs.
HOW IT HELPS Employers can appropriately allocate resources, enjoy increased flexibility, and eliminate wasted inventory by basing the production schedule around customer demand
31. Value Stream Mapping (VSM)
WHAT IT IS Value Stream Mapping (VSM) outlines the production process, from when an item’s ingredients leave the supplier until the finished product reaches the consumer. The process utilizes a flow diagram to examine each step to find areas of waste and point out inefficiencies. Dalco Metals, Inc. used VSM to reconfigure its office space to better reflect the company's typical workflow. The change cut processing time in half and inspired Dalco Metals to implement lean elsewhere on their manufacturing floor.
HOW IT HELPS VSM helps organizations locate waste and inefficiencies, so they can take steps to improve and address underlying issues.
32. Zero Quality Control
WHAT IT IS Zero Quality Control (ZQC) is a method for eliminating all defects from a particular process. Rather than focus on the employee, ZQC aims to control a process' performance and make it impossible to produce defects, no matter the operator or conditions.
HOW IT HELPS ZQC leads to a proactive approach for finding and addressing defects, which increases uptime, improves productivity, and boosts efficiency.
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