LEAN Continuous Improvement is perhaps the single biggest profit driving initiative that a typical manufacturing organization can undertake. Most companies possess significant latent manufacturing capacity, the unleashing of which results in a “LEAN Virtuous Cycle” of lower operating costs, leading to more business, which in turn leads to lower operating costs. This, combined with a relentless application of LEAN and Six Sigma tools to drive out the “7 Wastes”, can launch your profits to previously unattained levels.
The goal of any LEAN initiative is to unleash the innate talents of a work force to increase the efficiency of a process (in this case manufacturing), by systematically driving out waste, improving OEE and, in general, optimizing a network. The underlying principle of all LEAN approaches is the “theory of constraints” which states that the performance of any manageable system is limited by a very small number of constraints, and at any given time, usually by one. The three-pronged method by which these constraints are broken involves putting into place the 1) technical, 2) organizational and 3) cultural infrastructures needed for transformational change, change that will drive sustainable continuous improvement for years to come.
Technical infrastructure is built through skills training & tools. Organizational infrastructure is constructed through smart staffing plus effective processes and procedures. Finally, cultural infrastructure is established via the consistent application of the first two.
The foundational theme of culture change cannot be over-stressed since it is only through culture change (“mindsets and capabilities”) that an organization can reach the ultimate goal of self-sustaining continuous improvement. Most LEAN initiatives that fail (and many DO fail), fail because the host organizations neglected to establish true LEAN CI cultures. Without an embedded LEAN CI culture, the gains enjoyed early in a LEAN initiative tend to dissipate after the “change agents” (consultants, a visionary leader etc…) depart.
LEAN is deployed gradually, with evolving focus areas. As “lower hanging fruit” is harvested, and as team capabilities mature, a program’s focus shifts from the basics such as 5s, early TPM, OEE improvement, and the elimination of egregious waste (scrap, overfill, excessive headcount etc…) to more difficult and nuanced endeavors.
Phase 1 activities tend to focus on maximizing asset utilization, and on early-stage cultural foundation building (for example, the initial deployment of essential tools, processes & procedures). Maximizing asset utilization generally involves an emphasis on those initiatives which optimally balance the following three variables:
· Asset/machine availability (with a focus on bottleneck operations),
· Asset/machine rates (with a focus on bottleneck operations) and
· Yield (across the entire operation
Our LEAN CI program is built upon seven pillars, deployed gradually and with evolving focus areas. Information showing those seven pillars, plus a partial list of the activities and skills that sustain them is provided in the following table.
The above list is simply too large to allow for its simultaneous implementation. For this reason, pillar activities are gradually deployed, and in site specific ways. Each site has its unique needs and its own levels of competency. Ideally, an in-depth site LEAN audit should be conducted, to assess the organization’s maturity levels with regards to the deployment of the 7-Pillars, and their supporting activities and skills. A properly conducted LEAN audit will yield an effective roadmap for implementing an efficient, site-specific LEAN transformation.
Phase 1 (6-12 months duration).
· Primary focus is on team training to maximize asset utilization (availability, rate & yield)
· Begin with LEAN training (basic 5s, early stage TPM, SMED, root cause analysis)
· Implement a Plant Control Process (PCP)
· Implement basic visual floor management
· Conduct a bottleneck analysis to identify leverage points
· Ensure data collection & analysis (downtime, speed loss, breakdowns, waste) is in place
· Basic downtime reduction
· Begin optimizing machine speeds
· Start focusing on scrap & overfill reduction
· Introduction of very basic standard work
Phase 2 (6-18 months duration).
· Continue & build upon Phase 1 activities
· Implement a strategic planning process
· Performance alignment: Cascading MBOs/Vision deployment
· Formalized LEAN CI training program
· Supervisor development
· Begin High Performance Team building
· Full blown systematic SMED
· Deep root cause problem solving
· Comprehensive standard work
· Launch formal TPM (Total Productive Maintenance)
· LEAN audit process
Phase 3 (6-18 months duration).
· Continue & build upon Phase 1 & 2 activities
· Forecasting, balanced flow.
· Value Stream Mapping (VSM)
· Comprehensive “7 Wastes”
There might be insufficient resources for a full site LEAN transformation, at least in the beginning, when skepticism about LEAN’s value might be strong. In such situations, it is often beneficial to pilot improvements on specific, well chosen, focused assets. By choosing pilots that do not overstretch limited resources, and that have higher probabilities of success, the risk of failure is reduced. Additionally, success breeds success, so a winning pilot will motivate the organization to put more resources behind an expanded LEAN initiative, plus provide a “how-to” template for replication elsewhere.