It’s widely known that Henry Ford revolutionized the manufacturing industry in 1913 by fully integrating the entire production process. By incorporating interchangeable parts and a conveyor system, Ford created an assembly line process that he called “flow production.”
Ford’s new process was remarkably efficient in its use of time and materials. However, the main limitation was the inability to accommodate variety in the design of his automobile chassis. Essentially, every Model T that rolled off the line was identical.
After World War II, Toyota leadership in Japan began refining Ford’s concept by shifting the focus from the specific function of each step to the overall process flow. They also improved communication between the various stages in the process, making it possible to shorten the manufacturing time, and increase both the variety and quality of the product.
It was the beginning of what we know as lean manufacturing. And while the specific principles of lean manufacturing have evolved over the years, its core concept is quite simple: eliminate waste.
Waste in the manufacturing process can be eliminated in three general categories: time, tangibles, and talent.
Lean Manufacturing Means Saving Time
Are there any activities or steps in the assembly process that can be eliminate or restructured to save time? Lean manufacturing is about removing anything that doesn’t add value to the end product.
The first step is to conduct a careful study of the manufacturing process in order to identify “bottlenecks” in any stage of assembly. These blockage points need to be evaluated and redesigned to improve throughput. This can be as simple as adding workers, re-organizing a workspace, rearranging steps in a process, or improving communication channels.
Improving the Tangibles for Lean Manufacturing
Another area of waste can be found in the use of raw materials, tools, machines or other technology that can be redesigned or improved to make the manufacturing process more efficient. The Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing process seeks to make sure the assembly team has the right materials at the right time in the right place and in the right quantities. The goal is to reduce the number of components, materials and inventory on hand in order to save space and costs, and to provide the customer with the end product when and where they need it.
Managing Talent in Lean Manufacturing
The third category in lean manufacturing involves managing people. This means both the quantity and quality of the people involved in the process.
Are there any roles or functions that can be combined to reduce headcount without reducing efficiency or quality? Do the people in the process have the right training, knowledge, and skills to perform their jobs at a peak level? Are skilled positions being forced to perform unskilled tasks due to a flaw in the overall process? How do we optimize the performance of employees without sacrificing job satisfaction and engagement?
By answering these types of questions and taking a close look at how you use your talent can help to create a more efficient manufacturing process.
Lean Tools for Manufacturers
There are many different methods, from Kaizen projects to Value Stream Mapping, that manufacturers can use to evaluate their current processes in order to identify opportunities to eliminate waste and implement change. You may want to consider hiring an outside specialized firm to perform a process evaluation. You can take advantage of their expertise and insights, gained from working with multiple clients across multiple industries. However, this can also be costly and only provides you with a one-time evaluation that still may not get you the desired results.
Other manufacturers follow a slightly less expensive route by sending one or more of their employees to be trained in lean processes. The company then is able to utilize their skills on a continuing basis. For many manufacturers, this can prove to be a wiser investment over the long term.
But sometimes the easiest lean strategy is to simply empower your frontline workers and tap into their knowledge and experience. Very often, these employees have the most practical insight into best practices and efficiencies that just need to be communicated to and adopted by the rest of the team.
Whatever you choose, by doing a little research, you can find the lean methodology that best fits your business and budget. Paycor also has many tools, including Analytics and Learning Management, that can help you evaluate existing processes, establish and meet training goals, and also facilitate communications and employee feedback.
At the heart of lean manufacturing is a commitment to process improvement and a recognition that it is an ongoing endeavor. Never stop asking “How can we make this better?” and always be open to new ideas and innovations.