Lean manufacturing isn’t just for the big guys. Today’s small and medium businesses can get an advantage over their competitors by looking to lean manufacturing practices. Here’s how.
When we talk about lean principles, it doesn’t take long for big names such as Toyota and Boeing to crop up. But in reality, lean isn’t a strategy reserved just for large manufacturers and large runs; more and more smaller businesses are reaping the rewards of “going lean”.
To remain competitive in today’s globalised market, small and medium businesses know they need to be flexible and resilient. They also know they must constantly aim for better efficiency and higher quality in all that they do. And that’s what lean manufacturing is all about.
According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, the core idea behind lean is:
“To maximise customer value while minimising waste.”
Apply this to manufacturing, and lean becomes about identifying and eliminating waste in the production process. That can mean anything from packages being overfilled to equipment with too much downtime.
The benefits are substantial. If SMEs can embrace lean manufacturing as part of their overall strategy, they can look forward to:
- increased profits
- decreased costs
- efficiency gains
- long-term growth
However, the success of any lean manufacturing program relies on the ability to change — and this is where smaller businesses have the advantage. While bigger organisations may have more resources at their disposal, change is typically slow and cumbersome. Smaller businesses on the other hand, are usually more flexible and nimble when it comes to change. For a start, there are fewer levels of managers and directors to whom you need to “sell in” the idea.
Add to this the rapid proliferation of technology and automation, and “going lean” has never been so easy for small manufacturers.
So how can you make lean work for you?
Start small and think big.
Don’t be overwhelmed by lean’s principles and think that you need to stop everything you’re doing and overhaul the whole business right now. Break down the principles into manageable steps. And start by focusing on those that will make a big impact over the long-term.
Here are a few examples:
- Standardise processes
A great tool to start with is with “5S”, which ensures your space is used for value adding:
- Sort: remove all unneeded tools, parts and supplies; everything is there because you need it.
- Set in order: everything has a place and everything is in its place, so manufacturers can locate everything needed to make a product in the least possible amount of time.
- Shine: clean the area as work is performed, not afterwards. Visible results help boost morale and motivation of staff.
- Standardise: make sure that cleaning and identification processes are consistently applied, this lays the foundations for incremental improvements.
- Sustain: keep going with the above; 5S is a habit and encourages a culture of continuous improvement.
- Predictive, preventative maintenance
Total productive maintenance (TPM) is not only one of the foundation blocks of lean manufacturing, it’s good business sense. As Benjamin Franklin said: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, you have to take care of your equipment so you can rely on it and eliminate unplanned downtime. Here’s why TPM is important.
- Find the root of any problem
Jidoka (also known as “automation with a human touch”) is one of the pillars of lean as established by Toyota. As with many of the principles, it is remarkably simple. This goal is to provide the ability to detect when an abnormality has happened and immediately stop work. Here’s how it works:
- discover an abnormality
- fix the immediate problem
- investigate and correct cause
The ultimate goal is to build in quality at every stage of the process, and enable more efficient work.
One way — and many believe it to be the best way — to achieve this is with in-line automated quality control. Say you have a nut factory. Something happens with the filling machines, and packets start getting overfilled. If this goes unchecked, you’ll be losing money off your bottom line fast.
However, the right technology can help. A checkweigher system can automatically detect when a product has been overfilled (or under filled) on the line, thereby preventing overproduction — the worst of the seven wastes of lean manufacturing. (You may find this blog interesting on how to calculate the ROI of your check weigher.)
- Poka Yoke (mistake proofing)
Mistake proofing, or “Poka Yoke”, is a technique that came from the Toyota Production system. It can be a simple device that prevents defects from being made, or it highlights defects so they aren’t passed along to the next stage in the process.
The great thing is that today there’s lots of equipment designed for exactly that purpose. For example, a vision inspection machine detects a problem, it alerts you, so you can take immediate action to stop the defected product, and also find the root cause.
With this in mind, Australian automotive accessories manufacturer TriMas implemented iQVision as part of its focus on continuous improvement. The vision inspection solution has replaced the company’s manual workflow, improving quality and eliminating the possibility of a defect moving to the next stage. It’s also removed the potential for errors to creep in and cause problems for TriMas and its customers. (You can read the full case study here.)
- Set-up reduction
Setting up equipment to change from one product to another takes time and effort. To justify the long set-up times, manufacturers often run long batches. However, with lean manufacturing, the goal is to reduce set-up times, so you are always ready to get the best value from your line. This is where having the right types of technology can make all the difference. Investing in equipment with fast and easy changeovers ensures you maximise uptime and profits, and reduce waste.
These are only a few examples of how lean principles can benefit small and medium manufacturers. Ultimately, as SMEs battle in an ever-competitive marketplace, lean will become a valuable tool to help them win.
You may also find this blog on how lean improves quality control interesting, and where inspection equipment fits into lean manufacturing, as well as where lean fits into the latest supply chain changes canvassed when we were a part of the technology panel on the Transport & Logistics day at the 2015 GS1 Supply Chain Week.
You can also download our free whitepaper on automating your way to lean manufacturing here, or click below. To find out more about how we can help you reach your lean manufacturing goals, contact us today.