Lean Manufacturing

Be sure to check out the lean manufacturing section of our Software Directory.

Apr. 19, 2017 - At GE Healthcare’s 280,000-square-foot repair operations centre in Milwaukee, Wis., a fleet of OTTO self-driving vehicles are used to deliver parts to workstation cells to handle over 2,000 repairs of medical devices weekly.
Mar. 26, 2017 - The Cloud-based lean manufacturing solution provider Leading2Lean helped West Liberty Foods save $2 million in maintenance costs over the past two years with its implementation of Leading2Lean at three of its plants.
Jun. 3, 2016 - In the beer business, it’s tough to be the little guy. Fighting for market share against huge companies with much larger budgets and much deeper pockets is an uphill battle.
May 24, 2016 - Unlike other industries, the manufacturing and production industry is no novice when it comes to project management. Lean, Kaizen, Six Sigma and many other methods have already contributed enormously to eliminating wastes, streamlining processes and optimizing production cycles in manufacturing.
Mar. 14, 2016 - Whether manufacturers pursue lean production, Six Sigma, or their own quality assurance program, measuring is at the heart of quality and foundational in Six Sigma’s goal to Define Measure Analyze Improve and Control (DMAIC) production processes. Yet excess waste remains when the measurement is completed by slow human subjective means such as traditional hand gauges and optical comparators, which can lead to a myriad of errors in production processes.
Nov. 5, 2015 - 4aBetterBusiness, a consulting firm that assures client companies make more money through increased productivity, reduced core costs and immediate employee engagement, has announced that company president Paul Vragel will be speaking at FABTECH 2015.
Jun. 30, 2015 - Eliminating process waste in a manufacturing setting is not a small task. Improvements in this area do not happen overnight, and cannot be viewed as a simple project that someone at a manufacturing company can undertake, implement quickly and expect to be successful. An entire culture shift needs to take place to make a real difference. Manufacturing companies are now seeing that by adopting and embracing Lean manufacturing principles, they are able to improve their bottom line and market share. But for Lean to be successful, there must be 100-per-cent employee buy-in to the process. The entire culture of the way the company operates must be examined, analyzed and critiqued in order to truly adopt Lean principles. Lean manufacturing is the process of identifying non-value added activity or waste. It includes anything that does not change fit, form or function of the product. If the process isn’t essential to the end product, it needs to be eliminated. The benefits are lucrative when Lean principles are implemented successfully. One will see gains in quality, lead-time reduction, productivity and employee development.
May 20, 2015 - You may be thinking about implementing lean manufacturing practices in your facility, or perhaps you have heard about lean manufacturing and want to know more. Whatever the case may be, these tips can help you determine whether your manufacturing process can benefit from lean techniques, and if yes, the best way to go about implementing them.
Sept. 18, 2014 - Manufacturing AUTOMATION caught up with Burlington, Ont.’s Memex Automation while at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago. Company president David McPhail gave us a demo of MERLIN, Memex's manufacturing operations management system. Take a look.
A client recently asked me whether I thought the integration of lean was a worthwhile investment of time and capital. “That all depends on your objectives,” was my response.
In a highly competitive, globalized economy, manufacturing and fabrication firms no longer have room for errors or defects. We must relentlessly look for ways to meet and exceed customer expectations while growing the bottom line.
Lean manufacturing environments constantly evolve to address rapidly changing customer needs, which means workstations and areas within the plant are constantly impacted by transitions, additions, and moves. Manufacturing leadership that emphasizes visual communications lends a new perspective on lean manufacturing and helps improve operational flow. Here are three typical scenarios where visual communications can do just that. TRANSITIONS: Changing facilities without missing a beat “A large Fortune 500 manufacturer made a strategic decision to swap production lines of similar products at two of its facilities to optimize supply chain operations,” said Troy McKnight, partner with PM Alliance, a project management firm in Georgia. “This strategy was a challenging endeavour. What increased the complexity was (a) they could not stop production while this line swap was happening, and (b) one of the facilities was in the UK and the other was in North America.” Situations like this make a compelling case for extensive visual communications, specifically the kind promoted by lean manufacturing advocates. Lean techniques to speed such transitions include: • Using colour and number codes to identify the equipment for each section of the transported line. As each machine or equipment is disassembled, numbered colour-coded labels mark boxes and shipping containers. Upon arrival in the new location, the boxes are opened in reverse order to provide the parts in the proper order to assemble the machine. • 5S, but with everything returned to its proper location in a different facility. Show which items go to which work area. In the new area, create shadow boards, colour-code work areas, and mark floors with colour tape to show machine locations in advance of everything arriving. ADDITIONS: New Equipment “New equipment additions should be purchased with an eye to operational costs, especially when the equipment is a large energy user,” said Mitch Kennedy, founder of the Connecticut-based Design with Nature, LLC. “For example, the addition of a sizable injection molding machine, say 250 – 400 tons or more, could substantially increase the base load power of the facility. Moving is often the best time to reduce future costs for maintenance, utilities, and environmental compliance,” he added. Visual communications can be critical in such scenarios. Because new machinery and equipment may have different controls or operating parameters, create signs and labels with instructions on how to use machines safely and efficiently. MOVES: Eliminating Wasteful Motion Productivity and workflow expert Robby Slaughter, at Indianapolis-based AccelaWork, focuses on warehouse and inventory storage. He has seen many clients ignore some of the most obvious handling costs. “If you stack palettes as they arrive,” he said, “you will have to un-stack them each time to make a delivery to ensure that aging inventory is given priority. Alternately, if you create zones for each period of time, you’ll be constantly moving your entire inventory from one section to the next as time passes. The best approach is to update the signage rather than move the product.” Magnetic labels that can be easily moved are an excellent option for warehouses. In the food and pharmaceutical industries, transitions, additions and moves create the potential for waste as these products have limited shelf lives. Chad Metcalf, a food industry consultant at Orilla, Ont.-based Value Stream Solutions, Inc., zeroes in on eight deadly wastes—transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, over-production, defects, and underutilized people—which can be mitigated by communicating standard operating procedures to ensure maximum efficiency. Examples: • Each time a product is moved, it stands the risk of being damaged or lost, which is a waste of time and money.• In contrast to transportation, motion is attributed to the worker. Excess movement to complete tasks or excess distance between workers and tools or materials is wasteful of the worker’s time and energy.• Over-processing occurs any time more work is done on a piece than is required by the customer. This includes using tools that are more precise, complex, or expensive than absolutely necessary.• Over-production occurs when more products are produced than is required by the next operation and ultimately the customer. Often considered the worst of the eight deadly wastes, over- production can set the other seven in motion. Aligning and uniting both managers and production floor workers helps reduce errors, waste and frustration. Open and transparent communication, including signs and labels, needs to be part a part of lean manufacturing practices. Communication is the light that illuminates the direction and future—the lubricant among people which enables a rapid horizontal flow of “part and product.” Jack Rubinger, Graphic Products, writes for industrial publications worldwide. For more information, visit www.GraphicProducts.com or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Dave Hogg is a member of The Association of Manufacturing Excellence’s corporate board. AME is North America’s premier organization for the exchange of knowledge in organizational excellence through the implementation of techniques such as lean tools and lean product development. For more information, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Typically, when we talk about Lean, we often look at the programs or processes manufacturers put in place. But Lean is about more than a program—most often, the success of a Lean initiative really rests on people.Manufacturing AUTOMATION sat down with Paul Hager, vice president of Lean Productivity Systems Inc., to discuss the important role human capital plays in a successful Lean strategy and what manufacturers can do to make sure they’re getting the most out of their people. Manufacturing AUTOMATION: Lean has often been referred to as a “human system” rather than a “process system.” What does this mean?Paul Hager: Lean has evolved from the Toyota Production System (TPS) and somewhere in that evolution a few things have been lost in translation. Lean has become more about the tools—value stream mapping, kanban, kaizen events, etc. —and less about the development of people, which is the focus of the Toyota Production System. Toyota uses human capital as the main engine behind TPS, rather than technology. It believes in using the ideas from its workforce to improve its overall processes. It creates a culture where people are identifying problems on a daily basis. When Toyota hires people, the company isn’t necessarily hiring people with previous automotive experience, it’s hiring people that can solve problems. When you hire like that up front, you help develop that human capacity. MA: Why is human capital such an important component of Lean? How does this particularly pertain to a manufacturing setting?PH: Even when Toyota installs a new assembly, they make sure the people doing the work are part of the process. This is different from other automotive companies who typically hire experts that tell the employees how things will be done, and then assume the employees are the problem when the new processes don’t work. A lot of times, these companies think they’ve involved the front-line employees because they’ve asked for input, but it’s usually the engineers and designers that make the final decisions. Toyota involves the front-line people in setting up the line in the first place. That doesn’t mean the company doesn’t use engineers and designers too, it just puts more of an emphasis on the input of the employees. MA: How can companies ensure they’re harnessing this human potential most efficiently?PH: The secret is to develop a problem-solving culture. We believe the best way to do that is by implementing a human development program, designed to develop and standardize the problem-solving processes of your people. Toyota uses the Deming Cycle, which focuses on encouraging a workforce to think in a standard way (Plan, Do, Check, Act). What they’re saying to their people is, “We don’t want you to just do the work, we want you to think about improving the work. And we want you to do that through Plan, Do, Check Act.” It sounds a bit like brainwashing, but it’s not. It’s about getting everyone in your company to think about how they can improve their jobs, and getting them to think about that every single day. It’s more than just implementing a suggestion system—it’s not about getting people to suggest having better food in the cafeteria. It’s about how people can improve their work on a daily basis. MA: What are some easy, initial first steps companies can take to implement Lean by means of their employees?PH: One of the most important first steps is to identify what a problem is. Management needs to understand which problems they want people to identify—Toyota uses the eight wastes (see sidebar). You want to make sure the organization is communicating what types of problems take priority over others (safety, waiting time, costs, etc.).We suggest doing a survey of your people first, and helping the supervisors or group leaders teach the employees how to identify problems. If our primary goal is to cut costs, for example, we want the employees to learn how to identify problems that are associated with excess costs. One of the trickiest things is to help people identify relevant problems with their work—not organizational problems, or world problems, but rather problems in that worker’s area of control. It’s also important to teach them how to turn those problems into opportunities. Sometimes all it takes is just asking a few reflective questions. That can be done by simply asking the supervisors to talk to their people. After that, it’s also important to implement a Just in Time (JIT) approach to problem solving. When a solution is identified, it’s important that people aren’t waiting months and months to see results. The solutions need to be implemented quickly. This creates excitement in the organization, because employees are able to witness change happening. They feel like they’re making a difference, and it sends the message that management deals with problems as they happen. MA: How can harnessing this human capital and employee knowledge help you innovate faster, improve productivity and even improve automation and control systems on the shop floor?PH: When we talk about innovation, we’re not talking about organizational or technological innovation, we’re talking about improvements to the work. Sometimes that leads to technological innovation, but not always. When somebody comes up with a problem that needs to be solved, sometimes the solution is simple—like moving a spool closer to a workstation. In other cases, it might be more complex. Engineers and management can see that a particular problem is impacting the work—if it can somehow be fixed, the cycle time could potentially drop from 25 seconds per part to 10 seconds per part. Sometimes the solution is a technological one; something new has to be created to see a result. Problems create urgency for solutions, whether the problems involve technology, training, hiring, administration or even new markets. Everyday problems create urgency to improve everywhere in an organization. Sometimes the solutions are much bigger or far reaching than the little problems identified by the front line worker or supervisor on the floor, but everyday problem solving creates dissatisfaction with the status quo, and this is why Lean/TPS companies are always innovating. Vanessa Chris is a freelance writer based in Toronto. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
There are regular job shops, and there are job shops that go far beyond basic fabrication - ones that design, machine, laser cut, manufacturer and inspect specialty components from start to finish. Watson Engineering, Inc. of Taylor, Mich., is the latter.
When a company announces its intention to introduce Lean practices and automated solutions to improve efficiencies, the first concern internally is the displacement of labour. But that was not the case for Otis Technology, a forward-thinking company specializing in the design and manufacturing of gun cleaning systems in upstate New York. The priority was to redeploy labour into value-added tasks in line with its commitment to a Lean philosophy. A move to Lean In 2005, Otis expanded its Lyons Falls, N.Y. operation by opening a 43,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to accommodate its growing business and new product lines. The new facility offered the company the opportunity to reassess the manual material handling practices that the company had outgrown. With a goal of creating a sustainable business model and a value-added work environment for its employees, the company adopted a Lean manufacturing approach and began evaluating each process to improve efficiencies, increase accuracy and eliminate waste throughout the building. The first step towards automation came in the form of an AS/RS system, which allowed for the quick and efficient storage and retrieval of inventory. The challenge still remained to automate the just-in-time transportation of components to and from the AS/RS system to assembly stations and manufactured goods bound for inventory. The current labour-intensive process required employees to walk miles during the day, pushing carts with assembly parts and completed cleaning systems from area to area.  In 2009, Otis project planners aimed to find an automated process that eliminated non-value-added tasks and allowed cross-trained employees to be reallocated to value-added services, such as production and quality control. There was also a necessity to alleviate the congestion and assembly error issues caused by the placement of a large quantity of inventory on the floor around the workstations. "When evaluating the tasks that our employees are doing, we want to ensure that they are doing value-added work," said Mike York, director of operations, Otis. "Transporting materials through a facility is a non-value-added task, so we took a look at it and said, 'We cannot change the whole building, but we can change the layout.' The question then became, how do we automate that?" Automating the process The Otis team searched for an automated guided vehicle (AGV) solution that easily adapted to continuous environment changes. "As we went on the Lean journey, we knew we were going to make different work cells and add new processes. Over the next couple of months the floor layout will look different, and another year from now it will be totally changed," explained Larry Williams, president of operations, Otis. "If you value stream the process and cut the waste out, you find that your footprint becomes smaller and you find better places to put things in the facility." In order to support the just-in-time goals of the Otis operation, product must safely move from random origin to random destination, undaunted by obstructions, machinery and people. Enter ADAM, a fully autonomous mobile robot manufactured by Canadian automated material handling specialists RMT Robotics. Designed to work like a sophisticated taxi service, Otis put ADAMs to work in the facility to automatically connect the random production processes. The system is comprised of three ADAM i-AGVs, automatic battery charging stations, wireless "call" buttons and an ADAM Commander interface computer. Each production station features a wireless ADAM call button. When the call is received from the station operator, the ADAM Commander employs a dispatch algorithm to select the appropriate ADAM vehicle for the task and then wirelessly sends the dispatch instruction to the selected ADAM vehicle. Given the destination and task, the ADAM vehicle is free to autonomously navigate through the facility to the destination. Unlike conventional AGVs, ADAM does not require wires, targets or markers, but instead uses "natural feature localization," "open path navigation" and "autonomous traffic management" as it travels to the destination. (See the sidebar below for more details on these features.) When arriving at the destination, the ADAM i-AGV is manually loaded with product and then assigned delivery locations by the operator via an onboard keypad interface. The operator can dynamically select from any destination in the building from a pick list, or choose to send some of the load to a first destination and the remainder of the load to a second destination. For example, starting in production, one tote can be sent directly to an assembly area for just-in-time materials delivery, while the second tote can be sent to the AS/RS to be placed into inventory. Once tasked, the ADAM i-AGV will autonomously navigate and deliver the products to the destination in the selected sequence. En route, the ADAM i-AGV will also monitor the state of its battery charge and, if time permits, automatically stop at one of the opportunity charging stations for a rapid top-up (30 to 45 seconds) of the battery charge. Not only has the ADAM i-AGV system accomplished the basic goal of autonomously and reliably transporting materials from point A to point B, but it has also amplified the benefit of automation by enabling Otis to create a truly Lean manufacturing environment. "By marrying ADAM with other Lean strategies, we have improved on-time deliveries, going from a success rate of 85 percent to 99.92 percent," said Williams. "We have better visibility into the management of our inventory, resulting in a savings of over $2 million." In a similar manner, the adaptability and elasticity of the ADAM system has given Otis the inherent ability to run production the way it wants, not the way the material handling equipment dictates. SIDE BAR: The features of ADAM Artificial Intelligence and Material Handling • Natural feature localization: This approach has evolved from research and development in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence. It uses a technique labelled "Simultaneous Localization and Mapping" (or SLAM), which allows a robot to be placed at an unknown location in an unknown environment, and then provides the algorithms for the robot to incrementally build a map of this environment while simultaneously using the map to compute its location. By using this approach, the vehicle is given the freedom to consider any open pathway within its environment as a viable route to use when travelling from origin to destination. Also, without the need for special markers, guide tape or wires, any location within the map boundaries becomes a potential destination for the i-AGV. This allows for tremendous flexibility in being able to modify the i-AGV system to accommodate changes to the underlying process or application. • Open path navigation: When compared to the traditional AGV navigation techniques that are typically constrained by fixed paths, ADAM has the advantage of having the ability for open path navigation. This feature ensures that any pathway to a desired destination is a viable option, assuming there are no permanent obstacles in the way that would interfere with free movement of the vehicle. There are no pre-determined routings from point A to B. An optimized path to destination is calculated onboard by the i-AGV itself, but remains dynamic during transport should the vehicle encounter any unexpected obstacles. That means the route can be changed and recalculated dynamically as required. • Autonomous traffic management: In terms of fleet command and control issues, this ability greatly simplifies traffic management and vehicle co-ordination by removing the burden from the central control system and transferring it down to the vehicle level. Rather than having the central control system anticipate all potential situations and their resolution, the vehicles themselves have the "intelligence" to independently resolve any conflicts that might arise while maneuvering through their working environment. For example, if one i-AGV is parked in an aisle waiting to be unloaded, all other vehicles are free to choose an alternate route around so that completion of their mission is not delayed. Bill Torrens is vice-president, sales and marketing, RMT Robotics. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
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