Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to implement Lean Manufacturing

If you are reading this then you are obviously interested in learning how to implement lean manufacturing within your own company. Maybe you have already dabbled in lean to become a more successful and more efficient organisation, maybe you have tried to implement the techniques within a service company, maybe you are completely new to this. I hope to help you over the coming posts to learn how to implement the best and most relevant techniques. Implementing Lean Manufacturing techniques is not rocket science and anyone with a firm grasp of common sense can do it.


Lean Manufacturing is a philiosphy as well as a collection of tools to help drive business improvement. It is about producing what the Customer wants, when the Customer wants it using the minimum amount of resouce required.

For example, if you wanted to bake a fresh cake for your children, would you open a large sack of flour and other ingredients? Would you then have a staff of several people each doing a seperate task in the kitchen, weighing, mixing, whisking, etc? Would you then put a large batch of cakes in an industrial sized oven to cook? Then present your children with their one fresh cake and then store the remainder of the batch for a later date. I am sure the children would enjoy their cake, with all the added preservatives that were required to store the remaining batch, and will consume the remaining batch, even if they later want chocolate cake but the stored cake is vanila! It is also a pity that they actualy wanted to have their dinner cooked but the kitchen was being utilised cooking a large batch of cakes.

The above would be stupid wouldn't it! But that is exactly what many businesses do with their products. They overproduce and store product that is not needed whilst being unable to produce what the customer wants today.

How to implement lean manufacturing on this process? Well most of you already know the answer, you open a packet of ready mix which contains exactly the right amount of ingredients, mix it yourself to the instructions, then place it in your normal sized family oven (or even into your much smaller microwave oven which nowadays doubles as a small conventional oven to save energy) and 20 minutes later your children have their cake, and tomorrow you open the chocolate ready mix cake.

Am I oversimplifying the situation with the above example, I would say not, many of the companies that I have visited are very much like above. They have excessive lead times and fail to deliver on time as their production equipment is tied up manufacturing what the customer wants next month, not now. Their excuse is that they have to do it like this to be able to produce ecconomicaly, it takes too long to change over the machinery to a different product and so on. They must learn how to implement lean manufacturing, they must concentrate on being able to only produce what the customer wants when they want it with the minimum amount of resource. The minimum amount of resource almost arrives as a given when you try to achieve only producing what the customer wants when he wants it.

A lean practitionar would call this JUST IN TIME (JIT) manufacturing and is one of the most important aspects of how to implement lean manufacturing. The ideal for any process would be one that could produce a batch of just one item on demand. This is thought to be impossible within many industries, but with just a little thought anything is possible, especially as technology improves every day. Imagine printing books, the process involves huge printing machines set up to produce vast batches of the same book, this results often in large quantities being pulped as unsold or being sold at greatly reduced prices in discount book stores. What would happen if you could walk into a book store, browse a screen showing all the available books then just select the one you want and a few minutes later it was printed, bound and handed to you without waste... impossible? No, it is already being done in a number of large bookstores! This is how to implement lean manufacturing!

So, do you want to have a company that competes on trying to have the lowest price through trying to run large unecconomical batches. Unable to be flexible when the customer wants to order something for tomorrow, but the lines are set up for something else. A company that has to scrap hundreds of products in the warehouse because the model became obsolete before you could sell them. A company that watches their business disappear overseas to China, India, Africa, etc. Or do you want to be a company that can ecconomicaly make just what the customer wants to today, be flexible enough to give it to them when they want and still be able to compete on price due to minimising your wastes? If so you need to learn how to implement lean manufacturing.

If you read this how to implement lean manufacturing blog you will learn over the coming posts what the relevant tools are within lean manufacturing, how they interlate with each other and how to actualy use them. Not from some university know-it-all or some big headed manufacturing guy who has done it once but from someone who has successfully run over a hundred projects both as an employee and as a consultant across many industries.

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