March 10, 2017 /
The idea of moving your fabrication shop over from traditional manufacturing to lean manufacturing can seem a bit daunting, but in today’s competitive market, it’s almost necessary. Even high-mix shops are finding ways to get lean and, in turn, are reaping the rewards of efficiency and reduced waste.
Knowing where to start is often a stumbling block for many fabricators, especially since smaller shops don’t always have all the resources required for a complete transformation. Which tools are the most effective? Which ones are the fastest to implement? How do I go about “mapping” out my company’s lean journey?
To help address some of these questions and more, the LENOX Institute of Technology has compiled the following useful tools and best practices to help educate shops that want to “get lean.”
Adopt Some Lean Practices
There are a host of lean practices manufacturers can use to reduce waste and improve productivity. According to the eBook, Five Performance Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, the following tools are just a few to consider:
- 5S. Known by many as the “housekeeping tool,” 5S is used to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. The five pillars of 5S include Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain the cycle. The potential benefits of 5S can go far beyond having a cleaner workspace. For example, regular cleaning, as part of the Shine pillar, decreases the accumulation of cuttings, shavings, dirt, and other substances that can contaminate production processes and result in defects.
- Root Cause Analysis. This is a problem-solving exercise that focuses on finding and solving the underlying cause of a manufacturing issue instead of applying “quick fixes” to?the symptoms. There are several techniques used when conducting a root cause analysis, including “The Five Whys.” This strategy suggests that you ask the question “why” five times with the notion that each time you ask the question, you move a step closer to discovering the root of the problem.
- Value stream mapping. This is a paper and pencil tool that helps managers visualize and understand the flow of material and information as a product makes its way through the value stream. The “map” takes into account not only the activity of the product, but the management and information systems that support the basic process as well. This can be especially helpful when working to reduce cycle time because managers gain insight into both the decision-making and the process flows.
Buy Some Practical Tools
Just like a line needs the right equipment to perform an operation, your shop needs the right tools to implement and communicate any lean manufacturing efforts. American Machinist offers five practical tools that companies should invest in as they begin incorporating lean principles into their operations. Below are three of the tools suggested: (Click here to read all five tools.)
- Whiteboard. The first step in transforming your existing processes to Lean Manufacturing processes is to map them out. You’ll want to imagine that your existing processes are the starting point, and a finely tuned, smooth-running, lean facility is your destination; then, draw it all out—literally. There’s no better tool for this kind of process mapping than a nice, big whiteboard. Not only will you use your whiteboard in the initial mapping, but you’ll continue to use it to map out various other processes for problem solving, analysis, and training along the way.
- Laminator. Once you’ve mapped out the ideal Lean processes for your shop floor, you’ll want to make the processes visually available to everyone who’ll engage in them. Signs are by far the best tools to accomplish this. As you move further in your Lean journey, you’ll begin to see the constantly changing nature of your processes as you re-evaluate and fine-tune them. Because the processes change in response to these re-evaluations, so do the signs. That’s why investing in a top-notch laminator is a great idea. The laminator will save a surprisingly large amount of time and money in the long run.
- Colored Tape. Like signs, tape allows you to create a visual manifestation of your facility’s lean processes. For example, by using colored tape, you can create lined paths with arrows and other symbols, or you might number stations based on where each one falls in a specific workflow. Assigning meaning to the various colors can also be an effective way to communicate steps and stages in your lean systems.
Focus on Building a Culture
Most experts agree the key to a successful lean transformation is cultural acceptance. In other words, everyone in the organization needs to be on board if it’s going to work. An article from Plant Services provides four building blocks to creating a lean culture:
- Visibility and transparency. Employing a lean system that allows for high visibility and complete transparency—where everyone can see what everyone else is doing at any given second of the day—is the first step toward creating that new culture.
- Provide value to the end user. Lean manufacturing systems should be a tool, not a task. These systems must provide value to the end user. In tandem with transparency, a lean system should be designed with that value in mind.
- Easy to use. For any new system rollout to be adopted quickly by hundreds of employees, it must be easy to use. If a new lean manufacturing system requires a PhD in computer science to use and understand, it’s far too difficult. Ease of use must be a priority for functions throughout the entire system, from data entry and report analysis to accessibility and responding to alerts or alarms.
- Provide instant feedback. For a lean system to be completely effective, employees will need to see the immediate effects of their work. Is the company or the production team winning or losing? The best way to capture that sense of immediacy is through real-time analytics.
What lean tools and practices have you implemented in your fabrication shop?