Lean manufacturing

Enhance Your Factory With These 12 Lean Manufacturing Techniques

Lean manufacturing techniques allow your company to continually identify and minimize wasteful processes and strategies that cause inefficiencies within your operations. Not only do these processes not add value to your organization, but they can also negatively affect your productivity.

Lean manufacturing techniques consist of principles that are designed to add several key benefits to your operations: reduce costs, eliminate waste, and reduce operational time. Below, we’ve outlined 12 lean manufacturing techniques that can help your business optimize operations.

1) Invest in Continuous Improvement (Kaizen)

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “change for the better” (kai) and “good” (zen). It refers to a lean management methodology that focuses on implementing continuous improvements. It goes together with the heijunka method or leveling production. This technique includes many key principles:

  • Know Your Customer: Understand who your customer base is and how you're creating value to them to meet customer demand.
  • Let It Flow: Trying to reach absolutely zero waste in all processes.
  • Go to Gemba: Leadership should understand every level of operations and follow project activities to determine where value is created.
  • Empower People: Create teams to implement kaizen.
  • Be Transparent: Always track performance and improvements.

Toyota was the company that created kaizen to improve manufacturing processes. Nestle is one of many companies that uses kaizen with value stream mapping to search for inefficiencies in every process.

Benefits of Kaizen

  • Improves quality and productivity
  • Reduces operational costs
  • Boosts employee morale and customer satisfaction

2) Minimize Mistakes and Defects (Poka-Yoke)

The lean manufacturing technique of poka-yoke focuses on helping your company to reduce mistakes and defects that could be creating waste, slowing down processes, or creating higher production costs. Closely aligned with Six Sigma, the principle of poka-yoke is to develop safeguards or visual cues that will help to avoid mistakes, or identify and correct them.

Poka-yoke has several principles including detecting, eliminating, and mitigating errors before they occur. Poka-yoke may be used anywhere in manufacturing processes where mistakes or errors are prone to occur, or may create safety hazards. For example, a safety mechanism on equipment that prevents it from starting if a worker does not perform a certain step.

One real-world example of poka-yoke in manufacturing is a safety function on a machine that must be controlled using both hands to ensure the operator is far enough away from any dangerous machine parts.

Benefits of Poka-Yoke

  • Increases safety of operations
  • Enhances production flexibility
  • Eliminates setup errors

3) Focus on Organizing (The 5S System)

The 5S System is an enterprise-wide lean thinking strategy that focuses on organizing all tools, equipment, and other resources in the best places. The practice ensures that there are no wasteful activities that use up productive time. Essentially, the 5S System offers process improvement by reorganizing the workplace.

The 5S in this system is as follows:

  • Sort: Sort all tools to only keep what is necessary, and remove what is not required.
  • Set in Order: Place the required equipment and tools at the best locations to maximize ease of access.
  • Shine: Keep the working environment clean and tidy.
  • Standardize: Make work processes at each station standardized.
  • Sustain: Requires the workers to maintain the standards established for their workstation.

Dearborn Mid-West used this technique when overhauling their engineering processes. They sorted out the steps in their operations to determine waste, figured out the proper order on how their engineering work should be done, and implemented a review process to clean up work mistakes. Then they standardized their new processes and made them sustainable.

Benefits of 5S Technique

  • Increases productivity while reducing waste
  • Improves safety by improving the workplace environment
  • Obtains a worker's commitment to new processes and standards

4) Schedule Production & Minimize Work-in-Process (Kanban)

The word kanban means “signboard” or “billboard.” This technique requires an organization to adopt a scheduling system and use lean tools that help minimize the number of products or projects that are in the works. Kanban also helps to leverage and improve work processes.

In essence, kanban allows companies to use some type of visual cue, signal, sign, or other visual display when monitoring the movement of materials and products through each step of the manufacturing process.

This technique is often used with Just-in-Time manufacturing to send a signal to begin production processes when an order is placed. Or, the signal could alert workers that a product has left the shelves, which lets them know that it’s time to finish producing the next batch.

Many companies, even tech companies like Spotify, use kanban systems to plan out projects or lean production operations.

Benefits of Kanban

  • Reduces wasted time and work
  • Increases productivity and efficiency
  • Allows for the continuous delivery of products to customers

5) Avoid Overproduction (Just-In-Time Method)

Just-in-Time lean manufacturing is a production strategy wherein the amount of inventory is reduced to lower warehousing costs. The strategy is designed to improve a company's return on investment by requiring that products are only made when an order is placed, not beforehand, so that the products do not sit on shelves for long periods of time.

The Just-in-Time method focuses on only manufacturing products when there’s a demand for them, which results in better quality. Because these methods minimize the amount of product on the shelves, it limits obsolete product waste and lowers warehouse labor costs. Often, this technique is combined with the kanban method to obtain visual signals about when production processes should begin, such as when receiving a customer’s order.

Nike is a real-life example of a company that uses Just-In-Time methods to cut down on their lead times and boost productivity.

Benefits of Just-in-Time (JIT)

  • Reduces obsolete products in inventory
  • Provides improved efficiency with higher product turnover rates
  • Lowers warehouse overhead expenses

6) Prevent Problems on the Production Line (Jidoka)

The jidoka technique focuses on individual workstations to detect potential problems that could upset the entire production process. The technique stops the production line and prevents it from restarting until the source of the problem is rectified. Once the workstation has been brought back online, the production process can begin again.

Part of the Toyota Production System, jidoka is defined as “automation with a human touch.” In lean manufacturing, the technique uses a type of supervisory function that evaluates a workstation and identifies problems that may cause product defects. It forces immediate action to develop a permanent solution for the issue.

We see many real-life examples of jidoka in office environments. For example, a laser printer running low on toner ceases to function. It can only start up again when someone replaces the toner.

Benefits of Jidoka

  • Faster detection of quality issues
  • Better worker response to workstations
  • Reduces costs with early error detection

7) Balance Your Output (Takt Time)

Takt time lean techniques are designed to prevent inventory shortages and buildups by balancing production process output. This technique consists of a formula that comprises the amount of time needed to complete a project, or product, that meets the customer's needs:

Takt time = available time / required output

Figuring out exactly how long a product takes to go through your process, from the order stage to delivery, allows you to improve productivity and identify opportunities to eliminate waste — ultimately leading to greater customer satisfaction. This method helps to match product demand with production processes.

Ford used this technique during World War II to make bombers. By using the takt time formula, they were able to switch from making one bomber per day to one bomber per hour.

Benefits of Takt Time

  • Removes waste from production line processes
  • Faster identification of bottlenecks
  • Locates and fixes underperforming stations

8) Remove Waste (Muda)

Muda is a Japanese word that means “wastefulness” or “uselessness.” In lean manufacturing, muda identifies seven areas of operations that could produce waste with the goal of eliminating them: transportation, overproduction, inventory, motion, defects, overprocessing, and waiting.

  • Transportation waste is typically the unnecessary movement of products, such as moving one thing out of the way to reach another. This could result in damage.
  • Overproduction waste happens when you make more products than you have a demand for — or have the capacity to store.
  • Inventory waste involves products that sit for too long, whether those are raw materials, works-in-progress, or finished products.
  • Motion waste refers to workers moving in an unnecessary manner that uses up valuable time, such as an indirect walkway that forces workers through a work area rather than walk around it.
  • Defect waste occurs when products don't meet quality standards.
  • Overprocessing waste happens when product processing exceeds what customers expect.
  • Waiting waste refers to products that sit idle, and that cannot go through processing or transportation methods.

An easy real-life example of waste is constantly transporting products around the warehouse to make room for new products, which wastes both worker time and production time.

Benefits of Muda

  • Identifies waste in production and warehouse areas
  • Eliminates wasteful processes that don't add value

9) Focus on Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) offers a lean manufacturing framework to measure any performance loss found in production processes. Categories that become tracked involve slow cycles, downtimes, and rejects. They may also be called availability losses, quality losses, and performance losses.

With this technique a company can create metrics for processes. Monitoring the work allows you to track the progress of an operation to find its root cause, which could mean that equipment isn’t being used to its fullest potential. Once the root cause is identified, a company can eliminate the problem or process that created the waste. After you establish a benchmark for equipment productivity, it can be periodically assessed and raised to achieve greater efficiency levels.

For example, a company may have an OEE baseline of 75% but is currently at 55%. Once the team identifies issues in equipment effectiveness, they are able to raise their OEE to 76%.

Benefits of OEE

  • Creates industry competitiveness
  • Enhances process quality control
  • Results in better machinery performance

10) Create a Clear Process for Improvement (Plan, Do, Check, Act)

The “Plan, Do, Check, and Act” technique focuses on eliminating waste and making continuous improvements by sending operations and processes through these four steps:

  • Plan: Recognize an opportunity or problem.
  • Do: Test solutions on a smaller scale to determine potential outcomes.
  • Check: Take the results from the testing and determine whether it meets the criteria established in the Plan stage.
  • Act: Implement the solution on a larger scale.

An example of PDCA in action would be a manufacturer implementing a new safety standard to determine effectiveness.

Benefits of Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA)

  • Allows for a continuous improvement in processes
  • Helps with testing solutions on a smaller scale

11) Categorize and Understand Losses (Six Big Losses)

The Six Big Losses lean manufacturing process focuses on categorizing the losses that are experienced with equipment. Understanding the types of losses they are allows for more effective solutions. This technique originated from the Total Productive Maintenance technique, and can go hand-in-hand with the OEE technique.

The Six Big Losses consist of:

  • Equipment breakdowns
  • Reduced speeds
  • Setup and adjustments
  • Minor stops
  • Production rejects
  • Startup rejects

These Six Big Losses align with the OEE categories of availability loss, performance loss, and quality loss. Equipment breakdowns, and setups and adjustments would fall under availability loss, while reduced speeds and minor stops are under the performance loss category. The quality loss category has the final two Six Big Losses — production and startup rejects.

For example, consider a manufacturing operation where a piece of worn out equipment struggles to reach optimal performance as the production speeds are reduced.

Benefits of Six Big Losses

  • Offers effective identification of equipment problems
  • Improves actions toward equipment-based losses

12) Maximize Your Equipment's Effectiveness (Total Productive Maintenance)

The Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) technique in lean manufacturing focuses on a more holistic approach to performing equipment maintenance. Instead of having the maintenance team handle all the maintenance work, it empowers equipment operators to maintain the equipment and tools in their own stations. TPM places an emphasis on shared workplace responsibility. When everyone is involved in maintaining the production processes, it creates more efficient operations.

This technique consists of eight key pillars:

  • Planned maintenance
  • Autonomous maintenance
  • Quality maintenance
  • Early equipment management
  • Focused improvement
  • TPM in administration
  • Safety/health/environment
  • Training and education

These key pillars rest on the 5S System foundation, and also supports the OEE and Six Big Losses lean manufacturing techniques.

Harley-Davidson is a real world example of productive maintenance in action. The company instituted nine lean tools to improve their operations to improve safety and enhance productivity.

Benefits of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)

  • Improves planned maintenance strategies
  • Increases workplace safety
  • Lessens equipment downtimes

Optimize Your Factory Processes with Amper

These 12 principles of lean manufacturing can help provide greater insight into your manufacturing processes, and can be deployed across many areas of operations. In addition to lean manufacturing techniques, Amper can enhance OEE techniques and provide additional lean manufacturing benefits. Contact us today to find out more about how Amper can help boost your operations.

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