Basic business sense requires companies in all sectors to deliver the best products and services possible whilst simultaneously eliminating costly waste. This is easy to say, but how do you define waste, and what can you do to get rid of it?
Lean manufacturing is a longstanding customer-centric production method that prioritises the principle of 'work smarter, not harder'. Sounds good, right?
Let's explore lean manufacturing and why it's so important in industrial settings.
What is lean manufacturing?
We'll start with two simple definitions:
Lean manufacturing - Consistently reviewing your work practices to remove waste whilst still maintaining quality.
Waste - Any activity that doesn't provide value from the customer's point of view.
Where does the idea come from?
While some date lean manufacturing back to the 1450s, the principles we'll discuss here really took off during the first days of automobile mass production.
Starting with Henry Ford's breakthrough moving assembly line, lean was honed in Japan in what became known as the Toyota Production System.
Toyota changed the emphasis of car building from the individual construction machines to an overview of the product's journey through the entire process, from start to finish. They focused on streamlining the operation by removing obstacles between steps and working directly to customer demand.
Lean manufacturing took off in the early days of automobile mass production.
The emphasis was on removing waste, of which Toyota Production System identified categories:
- Transportation: Moving materials costs money. Are your transport systems as economical as they could be?
- Waiting: Time is money. If there are significant delays between the workflow stages in your business you'll be paying wages and overheads with no return.
- Overproduction: If you're producing more than you have to you'll be paying unnecessary storage costs.
- Defects: Are your products high quality, or do you waste a lot of time fixing problems?
- Over-processing: There's such a thing as too much attention to detail. If you find yourself returning to work on the same product over and over, chances are your efficiency is suffering.
- Inventory: You need to have the right raw materials, but storing these also comes with a price-tag, so over-stocking can be regarded as waste.
- Motion: Do your staff and equipment flow seamlessly between tasks?
Another category not included in the initial Toyota Production System, but often added to this list, is workforce - are your workers performing efficiently?
As you can see, lean focuses on targeted, smaller-scale improvements rather than revolutionising the entire process in one go. To identify waste in your own manufacturing systems ask yourself two questions:
- "What is my customer actually paying for?" -For example, customers aren't paying for the storage costs of your raw materials if you're oversupplied - so this is waste.
- "Is every stage of my operation delivering maximum value?" - If not, you've identified a source of waste.
How can I minimise waste?
In competitive sectors like industry and manufacturing, if someone else can provide similar products to you but in a more efficient way, you're in trouble. This is why lean techniques are so popular- optimising your activities gives you an edge.
It's important to realise that restructuring towards this way of working won't happen overnight, but there are a few steps you can take to get moving in the right direction:
- Engage your clients - As the customer is the focus of lean, their input is crucial . Take their feedback on board and think about how you can make changes in the future.
- Discuss with partners - Your partners may have useful suggestions for ways that you could provide a better experience to your customers.
- Talk to your workforce -Your employees have probably already identified heaps of ways that your processes could be improved, so hearing their thoughts is a great starting point.
- Prioritise - As we've said, lean is all about making small changes, so don't try to change it all at once. Choose which areas to streamline, and be thorough.
Restructuring towards a lean model won't happen over night, and requires careful planning.
Why is lean so important to Webforge?
Lean is at the heart of the Webforge way of working.
From assembly through to delivery, we work closely with our customers to ensure we provide maximum value. Our manufacturing sites are designed to cut lead times and create an efficient workflow, while retaining a strong emphasis on quality control.
The Webforge Project Management Service is a key part of what we offer to our clients. Our expert team works with you, checking product standards, keeping abreast of changes to your schedule and delivering our output on time.
To take advantage of our Project Management Service, or simply learn more about our commitment to lean manufacturing, get in touch with Webforge today.