Lean manufacturing is coming into vogue after years of focus on quality, whether under the umbrella of Six Sigma or another Continuous Process Improvement methodology. Its main purpose is to manage to manufacture products with less waste while promoting sustainability. Here is an overview of lean manufacturing.
Lean in Manufacturing
The main definition of lean manufacturing is the elimination of waste. While waste includes unused materials and scrap parts you throw away, it also includes wasted time, idle equipment, an underutilized workforce and anything else not used at 100% of its capacity. Lean processes seek to eliminate wasted steps and actions as well. If it isn’t value-added one way or another, it is waste that needs to be trimmed or cut.
The Drivers of Lean Manufacturing
If you eliminate wasted time and effort in your manufacturing process, you typically get a higher production rate with the same equipment and people. If idle time is reduced, you get more production out of the same people without having to pay more in payroll costs, whether additional people on the payroll or in the form of overtime. If you eliminate wasted materials and scrap, you reduce the environmental impact of your operations.
Companies like Lundbergtech, for instance, specialize in supporting lean manufacturing, such as capturing waste in a form that can be reused, saving the company money on materials. Companies like lean inventory systems because it maximizes cash flow, though it can introduce the risk that operations come to a halt when there’s a disruption in the supply chain.
The Financial Benefits of Lean Manufacturing
When you remove overproduction, you save money because you aren’t sinking time and effort into something you end up selling at a loss or paying to store until it is finally used. If you are able to avoid ordering excess parts and material, you don’t sink money into raw materials that could be used to run the operation and generate higher profits.
A side benefit of this process is that you can typically get away with a smaller warehouse and less work-in-process, freeing up space on the shop floor. The costs of repairing and reworking products eat into a business’ profit margins; reducing this non-value added waste improves the profits on the products sold, and it may give you more product to sell as well if the parts aren’t made and then tossed. If you review operations and get rid of steps or verifications that are unnecessary, you can redeploy people and assets where they are contributing to the bottom line.
The Relationship Between Lean and Quality
When you reduce the number of steps in your operation, you reduce the number of opportunities for something to go wrong. When you simplify the manufacturing process, there are fewer ways something could be damaged. If you minimize the transportation of a part, there is less of a chance it is dropped or damaged during the process. In this regard, integrating lean manufacturing principles into your operation may improve the quality of the final product.
Lean manufacturing, while allowing companies to save on resources, is driven by consumer demands for more environmentally responsible manufacturing and companies wanting to increase production while lowering costs.