Sunday, March 21, 2010

What is Lean Manufacturing

How to implement lean manufacturing is my first attempt at a blog and as such I have spent a little time on the internet just trying to refresh my own mind as to “what is lean manufacturing” and quite frankly what I have read explains to me why lean can end up with such a bad reputation.

Why do I say that; because lean is not just the removal of waste! I think most of the definitions of lean that I read major on this one small part of lean. If all you do is focus on this then it is no surprise that people’s perception is that lean is all about cost cutting and removing people from the workforce to the point that the business has no flexibility. Lean is not Mean!!

This approach to implementing lean is wrong, yes you can get some good short term gains by taking this approach but they will not be sustainable and it will not help you to meet your customer demands in the long term.

Lean is more than waste reduction, waste reduction is something that happens when you focus on achieving what your customer wants, not what the board wants for the business; reduced costs! In my mind this is why so many lean implementations fail or are so badly supported. The company instead of focusing on the customer focuses on reduction of internal costs through waste reduction only. This looks like lean on the surface but they are approaching lean from their own need to reduce costs rather than their customer’s needs.

The company goes after the quick gains, making cost savings by cutting out people on the factory floor and not focusing on what the customer wants. This generally leaves the company anorexic rather than lean, when that rush order comes or they have various problems they can’t cope and customers are let down. “We tried lean and it wasn’t for us!”

The first step of lean implementation is to identify value – in the eyes of the customer! Value is only meaningful when you express it in terms of a specific product or service which meets the needs of the ultimate customer at a specific price and a specific time. Not just looking at where you are spending money and looking to reduce it!

Then you need to create value streams, how do you get from raw materials to the ultimate customer. Then make that value flow at the rate the customer needs it without being delayed or caught up in inventory.

Build at the demand of the customer, pull production through your factory rather than push unwanted inventory through it!

Then strive for perfection, not just quality, producing exactly what the customer wants when the customer wants it at a fair price with the minimum of waste. This is how to implement lean manufacturing, not just focusing inwardly to reduce costs by removing waste.

Think about it; If you only produce products with the features that the customers want then you are already simplifying your design, if you can define the value stream and make it flow at the customers requirement then you are removing all of the wasteful steps in the process (The whole process, not just a couple of work cells, how often is the delay from an office process?). If you have your work force focused on continual improvement then you will continue to improve your ability to satisfy your customer.

Focus should be on Value to the customer, not on the selfish reduction in internal cost and improvement of profit! If you focus on value then the improvement in costs and reductions of waste will appear as will the improved profits, but they will be sustainable, enabling your business to flourish rather than just survive.

No comments:

Post a Comment