Lean Primer

Many of us are new to Lean Manufacturing.  This is to help orient you to what we are trying to do.   In traditional supply and demand models, uneven demands are amplified – little spikes are seen as big ones, subsequent overproduction results in delays in true demand items.  Unmodified supply chains usually have excess inventory, production, labor, and capacity, while being unable to satisfy demand even though on average they are able to produce more goods than are being sold.

To avoid this, everything in Lean Manufacturing is based on demand-pull systems rather than planning or push systems.  General levels of activity are forecasted to allocate most materials, labor, and facilities, but actual activity is based on demand pull.  All processes should be in a lot size of one.  That is, if the demand is for one part, build one part.  If the demand is for 43 parts, build 43 parts.  If the demand is for 8 copies of agendas, print 8 agendas.

All of our systems and activities must be highly flexible.  That includes people.  Multi-tasking means cross-training, cross-learning, and cross-teaching.  Not to mention an appreciation for what others are doing and a break in monotonous tasks.  “Efficiency and execution will be at least as important as products and services” – Michael Dell

The primary way we achieve Lean Manufacturing (upon which the Shingo Prize is based) is by mapping the Value Stream and eliminating or reducing non-value added processes.  If we start our analysis of any given process by merely listing all of the steps we currently undertake, and then evaluate them in terms of what adds value in the eyes of the customer, we can identify those non-value added activities we can eliminate or reduce.

Common wastes (non-value added activities) include:

  • Defects (any error in processing, order entry, misinformation given, etc.)
  • Inappropriate processing (over-building, over-doing, repeating work that can be done by a computer or is duplicated by another department)
  • Overproduction (anything we build should be paid for or paid for almost immediately.  Any excess production on one item takes away resources from building something someone is willing to pay for. Inventory has the shelf life of lettuce” – it gets damaged, needs to be insured, occupies valuable space, etc.
  • Transport – any additional warehousing and handling operations.  Ideally, inventory should be delivered to point-of-use, such as the sheet.  No customer wants to pay a forklift operator to drive parts or spas around, especially back and forth through our own facility.  Drawing a “spaghetti diagram” of part or paper flow can be very enlightening.
  • Unnecessary movements – any excess bending, stooping, walking to the printer, looking for something, etc. should be avoided.
  • Excess Inventory – any inventory of any type we don’t need is a cost (excess brochures, pumps, spas, pencils).
  • Waiting – delays due to waiting for review and or approvals, editing, drying time, cure time, all are waste and do not add value.

We use Kaizen (a Japanese term for continuous improvement) to involve people in identifying and eliminating waste in their own areas.  By now, most of you have participated in a Kaizen event.  If you have participated in several, you will know each Kaizen is unique, based upon the participants and the problems the group is attempting to solve.   One element of every Kaizen of which I have participated, though, is the satisfaction the entire group feels upon identifying and beginning to tackle the problems before them.  What employee doesn’t want to improve their operation?  If you find one, fire him.

One very important aspect of Kaizen is its “continuous” focus – “A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.” – General Patton.  Let’s keep innovating.  If we can improve things, if only slightly, let’s do it.  The little things add up.

Copyright 2012 Paul Yandell.  Let Value Stream Focus help you get your organization moving on a path of Continuous Improvement and Cost Reduction.  Call 760-500-6006 or email pryandell@valuestreamfocus.com.

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