Configure your workplace

Tips for implementing lean manufacturing practices
Wednesday May 20, 2015
Written by John H. Grover Jr.
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.

Key steps in lean manufacturing implementation include: performing value-stream mapping, optimizing storage configurations, giving workers tools for success, working towards consistency, and continually reassessing what further changes will benefit your process. If you take advantage of these tips, you can significantly cut wasted space and money, boost customer and worker satisfaction, and improve quality.

1. Assess your needs
You may think you have an extensive understanding of your manufacturing process, but taking the time to assess the needs of your facility with the goal to cut down on waste is the first step in implementing lean manufacturing practices. You may be surprised by what a difference this step makes!

Work with team members from your manufacturing process to determine what parts and tools are needed for current production demands. Assess everything in your production warehouse, and get rid of everything that isn’t currently being used. Depending on the item and your predicted future demands, you may choose to relocate the item away from production areas or dispose of it entirely. Excess stock takes up valuable space in your production facility, slows down manufacturing and can hide production issues.

In addition, an important part of assessing your facility’s needs is performing value-stream mapping. This will help you see what steps are currently being taken in your manufacturing process, where delays occur, where other waste may come into play, and how to resolve these issues. Value-stream mapping is essential to the streamlining process, and can be used not just to determine the current state of your manufacturing facility, but also to map out an ideal future-state process.

2. Reconfigure storage
Once you have a firm grasp of your facility’s needs, have developed a value-stream map and a future-state map, you can make a plan for how to implement new processes. A key aspect of this plan is figuring out how and where to store tools, parts and other items to most effectively use space and time.

For example, open shelving often wastes space between shelves and at the back of each shelf, and therefore is an inefficient storage method for all but the largest, bulkiest items. High-density drawer storage can be used in its place and can dramatically reduce storage footprints. Drawer storage provides for customized sub- dividing, allowing similar items to be grouped together and every item to have its own clearly labeled space. This cuts down on wasted space and search time, enabling workers to locate specific items quickly.

Purchasing all new high-density storage units is one option for increasing storage efficiency. This opens up the option for completely customizing your storage spaces, allowing for the most efficient use of space. Another option is to retrofit existing shelving with modular high-density drawer storage inserts for highly customized organization. Finally, assessing what items need to be stored nearest to and away from production areas will increase efficiency of production. Items that are used often should be stored where they are used, while lower-traffic items and those that are bulky and in the way of production should be stored farther away.

3. Set workers up for success
Workers who are comfortable in their workspace are more likely to be successful and productive than those who feel uncomfortable. Factors that come into play in worker comfort include cleanliness, accessibility, safety and ease of use of working environments.

Clean environments are more enjoyable to work in, and can lead to improved worker morale. Moreover, clean environments — that is, environments free from spills, dust, airborne particles, and toxic or irritating substances — are safer workplaces for everyone. Making sure that workspaces are clean should be one of the top priorities of a lean manufacturing process. It is also easier to maintain when storage, workspaces, and workflow are streamlined.

4. Be consistent and continually reassess
Of course, these lean manufacturing practices will only bring about the desired results if they are implemented consistently. Not only does a workstation or storage area have to start out clean and organized and a process plan streamlined, but they need to remain that way. Ensuring that workers at all levels are invested in the lean manufacturing process and are accountable for maintaining the environment is crucial. In addition, you will need to adapt and change things along the way. Be sure to stay on top of how efficient the workflow is and how well practices are being implemented to determine whether changes need to be made.

Continuous improvement is one of the main tenets of lean manufacturing, and with good reason. These tips, and all initial lean manufacturing practices, can only serve as a starting point for streamlining your manufacturing process and eliminating waste. Once lean manufacturing practices are implemented, you should continue to perform value-stream mapping, identify areas where improvements can occur, plan for the future, and execute these plans. Through a willingness
to evaluate new solutions, you will ensure your practices, efficiency and process flow continually improve.

John H. Grover Jr. is the lean manufacturing manager and automotive repair America at Lista, a manufacturer of workshop and storage systems.


This feature previously appeared in the May 2015 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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