28 May, 2022

How the lean philosophy is transforming businesses

27 September, 2017

Two of IMI Precision Engineering’s plant directors: Charles Bamford, for the company’s Fradley, Staffordshire site; and Torsten Norff, for Alpen, Germany, outline the lean manufacturing concept and explain how it is transforming the way the organisation operates for the better.

Lean manufacturing is currently a huge talking point for the manufacturing sector. While it is certainly not a new concept, in recent years more organisations have been employing lean thinking to streamline their processes. From increased performance and speed through to quality and customer satisfaction, the benefits are abundant. However, many manufacturers are still not taking full advantage of the concept – or have only scratched the surface.

 A look at lean

The concept of lean isn’t a new theory. The principle is inspired by ‘Kaizen’, the Japanese word for continuous improvement and it seeks to implement processes which achieve high-quality products while maintaining safe working conditions and heightening employee morale. Lean manufacturing goes one step further in the way it predominantly focuses on eliminating waste from all processes and improving customer satisfaction. The elimination of waste refers to the expenditure of resources which don’t add any value to the end customer experience and which could compromise the profitability of the business.

In lean manufacturing, the types of wastage can generally be allocated into the following seven categories: over production; unnecessary transportation; waste in production; excess stock of material; defects in quality; waiting times and over processing. Poke-yoke is another term widely used in lean production. It is a mechanism in the process which helps operators avoid mistakes, which in turn results in the elimination of product defects and helps identify human errors when they occur. The objective is to provide the customer with a high-quality product or service in the timescale and quantity required.

 Lean production

Central to the concept of lean is minimising wastage. Some organisations base production entirely on forecast, which often results in excess product and the requirement to keep units in stock until needed. In contrast, other organisations will wait to receive all orders before producing a product, which can lead to longer lead times and unhappy customers. The key is to strike a balance and ‘just in time’ (JIT) is a principle which means to build what is required, when it’s needed. This ensures components are not used in products which aren’t sold and labour and resources aren’t wasted either.

[subhead] Lean people

The majority of organisations will cite their people as their most important asset and this is certainly the case when it comes to successfully implementing lean production. In order for lean to be effective, there needs to be company-wide buy-in and the way of thinking embodied at every level, from the CEO right through to the operators. While salary is an important consideration, employees essentially want to develop a sense of worth and feel as though they have contributed to achieving the company goals. Promoting a philosophy which appreciates workers efforts and places them highly to ensure they feel involved and valued, will encourage a more productive team.

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