Manufacturing has always been infatuated with creating as much as it can with as little as possible. The less resources, time, and confusing processes involved in creating a product, the less money wasted and the more optimized the operation. And while this is surely true in many regards, simplifying processes for the sake of simplifying is never well-advised. For example, we discussed in a previous post the concept of “IoT Wallpaper” or superfluous industry 4.0 applications that, while they may streamline certain processes, don’t truly provide value. In many cases, these fancy tech applications can be saved for later and a simpler deployment like more industrial computers on the manufacturing floor or a new employee training method can simplify processes that actually result in added value. 

There needs to be a meticulous approach towards cutting away processes, stock, and even responsibilities until all that’s left are the things that are truly 100% required to create value in your business. It’s with this philosophy in mind that Lean Manufacturing came to be.  

Lean Manufacturing Definition

“Lean manufacturing” was originally coined by Toyota and used as a framework, with resounding success, to create a truly honed manufacturing process that brought in value while simultaneously cutting down on all waste in the form of scrap, poorly managed time, and superfluous procedures. And that’s essentially the lean manufacturing definition – It’s a refining of manufacturing so as to remove any and all waste and non-value adding components of the process.

“Waste” in this sense can mean much more than just unused material and resources.

The “Waste” of Lean Manufacturing

In their original coining of the term “Lean Manufacturing”, Toyota specified 3 major areas of inefficiencies: Mura (unevenness), Muri (overburden), and Muda (uselessness). According to these three categories, anything that is uneven or un-optimized, work that serves no purpose, and anything that doesn’t add value should be deemed as “waste” and removed from the manufacturing process.

In less vague terms, here are the most common forms of waste that fall into these categories of Mura, Muri, and Muda:

  • Poorly Planned Transportation
  • Poorly Managed Inventory
  • Employee/Equipment Relocation
  • Idle/Unproductive Time
  • Downtime Caused by Broken Equipment
  • Production of Non-Essential Products
  • Over-Processing
  • Defective Products
  • Poorly Managed Workers
  • Lost Resources
  • Leftover By-Products 

Lean Manufacturing Principles

Removing any and all waste sounds like a gargantuan task but, truthfully, it isn’t something that needs to be done through one pass. Lean manufacturing takes time and multiple attempts, each one further refining the manufacturing process more than the last, until everything runs like a well-oiled machine. 

It helps, however, to keep these primary goals and principles in mind when making those passes. 

  1. Value- Value is the end goal and so it needs to be very clearly defined. What kind of value are you seeking with this first pass? Are you interested in cutting down on wasted stock? Are you looking to decrease the total time spent producing each unit? Define the end goal and the road to attaining it becomes clearer.
  2. Value Stream- A value stream is a mapping out of the entire process of your production from raw material to customer delivery. Being able to truly understand your process from start to finish and across every step can help you pinpoint any steps that don’t add value and can be removed or adjusted.
  3. Flow- How seamlessly you can move from step to step on your value stream without stopgaps, delays, or any other costly issues. Flow is what your team will be striving for once a value stream is defined and areas of improvement are identified.
  4. Reactiveness- With quicker flow comes quicker product development and delivery. The goal should be being able to create and ship out a product as quickly as possible as soon as an order comes in, eliminating the need to create products preemptively which can result in costly inventory that needs to be managed and wasted materials if projected demand isn’t met.
  5. Refinement- Like we stated, Lean Manufacturing is a repeated process. As you add more products, involve new tech, or even seek to expand your business, what you identify as “value-adding” and the ways to attain that value may need to be re-assessed.

Lean Manufacturing Tools

Now, with Lean Manufacturing properly defined, your goals even more properly defined, and the need for a value stream made apparent, there are several tools that can help get you started. The most popular of which are: 

Real-Time Inventory Management

For the purposes of creating a Value Stream Map and observing the amount of waste in your stocking and restocking practices, having real-time updates on your inventory gives you more accurate data to work with.

Industrial tablets with RFID and barcode scanners can allow employees to scan raw materials and finished products in and out as they are brought in, purchased, or processed. This information can then be stored digitally on a shared worker platform in real-time. Having this information available can show plant managers just how much stock is truly being used and how much is often being wasted or over-purchased, giving them one avenue through which they can eliminate waste.

Employee Communication Platforms

You’re going to need a lot of data and insight into how your factory is running in order to trim all of the fat in its operations. That’s not something only one person can do, it’s going to take a team effort and meticulous reporting on things like downtime, breakdowns, product yield, and more to create a truly comprehensive value stream map.

Manufacturing communication systems will prove to be essential in giving everyone on the floor a means of communicating and sharing this data in real-time. As far as hardware, industrial panel PCs provide a step up from box PCs.  Not only can these units be used to control machinery, but their display can be used to present data in real time to workers and be equipped with communication applications and even the same barcode scanning hardware we mentioned earlier. This will give employees a tool with which they can report all of the important data needed to create a comprehensive look at the plant for the purposes of creating a value stream map.

On the software side, developers like redeapp have done a wonderful job of creating secure, effective communication software designed to create this supply chain visibility.

Andon Alerts

“Andon” is one more Japanese-derived term used to describe quality control programs made in order to further enhance lean manufacturing efforts. Many times, these systems of quality control involve displays or stack lights that will indicate, through the use of interconnected sensors, when a breakdown or stop on the production process occurs. The system often also involves alarms either in the form of a sound or a text that will alert those who can stop the process and a manual means of stopping production so the issue can be addressed. These alerts can also be manually triggered if an employee notices an issue on the factory line.

The beauty behind an Andon alert system is that they’re designed to help employees fix issues without stopping production altogether. A product can still move down the production line while the employee notices an issue, pulls the Andon alert, and summons the employees who can solve the issue quickly before it becomes a large enough issue to stop the production line and create more waste.

Lean Manufacturing Example

A recent Forbes article highlighted a great example of Lean Manufacturing that we thought would be a perfect end-note for this defining of the process.

After creating their budget-friendly Logan in 2004, the team at Renault, a well-established French automobile manufacturer, realized a key defining characteristic of their consumers. Their buyers’ fervent appreciation for their cost-conscious vehicle revealed to the team that their goal shouldn’t be developing high-end, high-performing cars, rather, it should be developing cheaper “good-enough” vehicles. The team realized it would make more sense to trim back their manufacturing process and optimize for vehicles that required less raw materials, less tooling, and electronic components. This would allow the team to save money and transfer those savings to their consumers. Following these philosophies of Lean Manufacturing, the team went on to develop their next vehicle, the Kwid, another budget vehicle that was even better received than their last. 

While this may just seem some frugal business practices to some, to those inundated in Lean Manufacturing, it’s a lesson in how knowing your product and audience and then shaving away everything except what’s essential in delivering that product to that audience can save money, boost sales, and enhance efficiency.

Lean Manufacturing Can Look Different From Line to Line

Depending on your definition of value, your Lean Manufacturing practices can be completely distinct from your neighbors’. Thus, the most important part of any paring away of unnecessary practices is that clear and concise definition. Once you know the kind of value your business is seeking and are ready to delve into the world of Lean Manufacturing, contacting an expert from Cybernet for the right hardware recommendations is the next step.