Amidst the many challenges brought on over the past year by the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of innovation and lean manufacturing principles have become even more apparent. While 2020 was not the year for which most companies hoped or planned, it provided manufacturers with an opportunity to utilize lean manufacturing to address the shortages and problems caused by the pandemic. COVID-19 has drastically shifted the regularity of demand—with forecasts changing daily, sudden influxes of work, and order cancellations—which has emphasized the need for manufacturers to be flexible. Lean manufacturing encompasses many different aspects, and the pandemic has given manufacturers who embrace lean an opportunity to analyze weaknesses and address them head-on.
Below we discuss four key ways to implement lean principles into your manufacturing processes:
Lean Production Capabilities through Automation & State-of-the-Art Technology
Automation through state-of-the-art equipment is one of the best ways to eliminate waste. Preprogrammed equipment can produce parts with tight tolerances and help eliminate scrap and reworks. Fully-automated machines also provide the capability to run lights out, and this increased throughput aids in reducing lead-times for clients with time-sensitive projects. Not only does automation provide around-the-clock activity, but customers also benefit from cost reduction that would otherwise go to labor costs. High levels of automation maximize uptime and improve part accuracy and consistency while lowering costs. Additional benefits of automated equipment that support lean initiatives include:
- Repeatability/Accuracy – Increases part quality and minimizes reworks
- Quality – Part quality is not dependent on operator skill
- Part-Prestaging – A material warehouse similar to a Salvagnini MV can present the next tray of raw material or parts to be processed, reducing wasted time in material handling
- Automatic Tooling – Reduces setup costs and enables one-piece flow
- Partially Unmanned Operations – Increases throughput and when machines are running, an operator can perform manual work in process (finishing bends, deburring, etc.) or write programs
Lean Manufacturing through Inventory Management
A JIT (just-in-time) inventory management system can be used to effectively manage inventory and reduce cost of goods sold as this strategy ensures goods arrive exactly when they are needed in production processes. This lean inventory management strategy helps minimize or eliminate excess resources and enables continuous inventory flow. A JIT strategy can be more effective by pairing it with a Kanban system – while JIT reduces inventory, Kanban signals when more is needed. By combining a customer’s forecast and lead-time requirements with a company’s internal manufacturing capacity, safety stock levels can be calculated and product can be ready at the precise time it is needed by the customer.
A just-in-time (JIT) strategy that is properly implemented can bring value to both a company that employs it and its customers. Some of the benefits include:
- Increased Efficiency – Production lines can run continuously since materials are available to meet immediate production needs.
- Reduced Waste – The risk of having obsolete inventory is eliminated since it is no longer necessary to warehouse stockpiles of inventory.
- Reduced Inventory Costs – There is no need to warehouse idle materials, and the need to make a big upfront investment on materials is eliminated. In addition, the freed up space can be used for revenue-generating activities.
- Improved Delivery to Your Customers – JIT speeds up production processes, allowing for reduced lead-times and the ability to provide on-time delivery to customers.
- Reduced Production Obstacles – Having a stockpile of inventory can mask inefficiencies and other issues in production lines. A line is only as efficient as its least efficient process. Bottlenecks and areas with increased defects can be flushed out and addressed.
Lean Manufacturing through Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement is at the heart of lean methodology. A continuous improvement mindset focuses on removing waste from all manufacturing processes, which will save time, money, resources, or all three. The use of measurement standards helps to track progress and demonstrates how internal improvements are in turn helping to improve customer satisfaction, quality, speed to market, flexibility, and profit margins.
Several tenets of lean manufacturing that relate to continuous improvement are:
- Improvement is always both possible and necessary, through Kaizen.
- Employees are empowered and challenged to continuously improve and eliminate waste rather than just put in their time.
- All team members take on a mindset that a perfect product is achievable.
The result is an organization full of individuals constantly looking for a better way to do things. Those improvements incrementally enable a company to reduce lead-times, improve quality, and meet delivery deadlines consistently for their customers at a competitive price.
Lean Manufacturing through Flexibility
2020 showed manufacturers perhaps more than ever before that lean manufacturing is about being flexible. Flexibility in your machine capabilities, capacity to adjust production schedules, availability for quick changeover of techniques, and cross-training of employees will all help ensure your ability to be responsive and adapt when it becomes necessary to do so. A highly-responsive manufacturing operation will in turn allow you to create an agile customer service platform that will stand out to both your current and prospective customers.