Lean manufacturing – commonsense manufacturing

Many people believe lean manufacturing is rocket science. They spend millions and still end up in failures. But after spending years with lean manufacturing, I am starting to understand something very interesting.

Lean manufacturing is nothing than but commonsense manufacturing. Lean thinking, which is the starting point of lean completely based on commonsense and creative logical thinking. I don’t think you need to be a philosopher to understand customer focus of lean and the continuous improvement process.

Lean communication- Lean manufacturing concepts in information handling

Sometime back I wrote an article called “Lean communication” to introduce some lean manufacturing concepts to the process of communication. I think this is a topic which needs further clarification and explanation.

One of the most important processes in any organization is its communication process. Communication process is very important because every other activity depends on this. For an example production should know the information from designing team to perform their work.

In most of the organizations problems occur not because they do not have proper equipment or the human resources, but because of the problems in the information process. Information flow has all the wastes we discuss in lean manufacturing. It has overloading, delays and unprocessed information and so on (please read my article for further information). Therefore information handling process should get special attention in your lean manufacturing effort.

It is very important to understand that all the concepts of lean manufacturing can be applied in the context of information handling. I will discuss my ideas about this in coming posts. You are always welcome to add your comments and ideas on this idea.

Lean concepts to your life – Over production

Lean manufacturing is based on very interesting set of concepts. Actually these are much more than just few manufacturing concepts. If we have a look at the place where these concepts were originated and the time line of development, this is a philosophy which goes beyond your production facility. Lean concepts are derivatives of oriental thinking.

What is overproduction in the context of your privet life? Interesting question isn’t it? Although seems funny this question has a good answer. The term “overproduction” in a traditional manufacturing system known as producing goods before they are required. Think about your life. How many unnecessary things you have bought and in fact you might not be using them. Every advertisement tells you to buy this and that. But if you buy something before you actually need that it will be a waste. This will empty your pocket. It will also give you extra headaches due to storing problems and maintaining problems.

We will have another dimension to this problem. If you are not looking in to the complete picture of your life and if you give more attention to one aspect of it, you will fail. For an example putting effort in making money beyond limits will make you rich yet unhappy. Everything in your life should go in a rhythm and in a balance. This is exactly what lean manufacturing wants to avoid of cause in a manufacturing context. Everything should match each other. Not minimizing, nor maximizing but the optimizing is the objective. Overproduction is a result of maximizing.

Through this post what I want to tell you is this. Lean manufacturing concepts are not only applicable to manufacturing or services. It is a way of life. Disciplined, simple and conscious way of life. Think about this. You will be surprised.

Lean is not only for manufacturing

When we think about lean we think about lean manufacturing. JIT, poka yoke, SMED etc are highlighted. Lean tools might be used according to situation. But lean manufacturing concepts and principles are global. Lean concepts can be applied to any manufacturing or service industry. This is why people say “lean concepts are universal and not the tools and techniques”.

If we think carefully, we can find many instances where lean concepts can be applied in our day to day lives in order to reduce problems we face. Think for some time. I will give you a lean dimension to your life in my next posts.

80 to 20 theory (Pareto principle) in lean manufacturing

You may have heard about the Pareto principle. This is also known as the 80:20 principle. In simple terms this principle say “ 80 percent of the problems are due to 20 percent of the causes”. How true this is in lean manufacturing context.

It is important to identify and rank your problems. All the problems should be identified and prioritize according to the importance of them to the system. To do this you can use a Pareto curve. When you identify the causes for these problems you will see many problems occur due to little amount of causes. By avoiding them you will be able to remove many problems from the system. In general it is true to say you can improve your system by 80% by removing 20% of the causes from the system.

How does lean manufacturing improve the quality of the system?

Above is one of the questions asked frequently by many when I try explaining lean manufacturing to them. I thought it might be useful to make a post on this.

Lean manufacturing reduces quality problems due to many reasons. One of the main causes for quality defects is errors in the manufacturing process. But lean manufacturing aims at making the workplace mistake proofed. The system it self will prevent the errors. This is known as the Poka Yoke in lean manufacturing context. So there will be very little possibility to make an error first of all. So less defects and quality problems in manufacturing.

Secondly, lean manufacturing does not work on work in progress. Work in progress will hide your quality defects. So you will not be able to identify quality defects quickly. For an example if you have a work in progress of two hours, your quality defects will be revealed only after two hours. So you might have produced poor quality products within those two hours. In lean manufacturing there is no WIP to work on. Therefore when there is a problem it will be revealed as soon as it happened. In this case immediate actions can be taken to rectify the problem.

A workplace not leading to problems and a system which will reveal problems as soon as they occur is the perfect way to remove quality defects from the system.

Avoidable and unavoidable waste in lean manufacturing

The aim of lean manufacturing is to have a system which is waste free. Therefore it is very important to identify and remove waste from the system continuously. But we have to understand that all the manufacturing waste is not avoidable. No I am not trying to ruin your lean manufacturing efforts. I am trying to help you.

Most of the wastes are avoidable with simple solutions. There will be no or very little cost involved here. This type of waste which is commonly referred as “Easily avoidable” accounts for more than 50% of your total wastes. In most of the cases it might be in the region of 80%.

Some of these waste thought, not easily avoidable. We will have to put some effort to remove these waste from the system. Nevertheless the important point is we can avoid these wastes as well. This is a small percentage of your total amount of wastes.

But there is a very small percentage of waste which can not be removed from the system. This is due to various limitations like in technology etc. For examples if you have to load particular weight to a machine to operate it, then you have only two options. One is to go for a new machine. But if you can not do this for some reason, then you will have to live with your machine. In that case you can not avoid the associated wastes like over production.

It is important to understand basic concepts of lean manufacturing before implementing it. It is also very important to understand what you should in what order. When you identify wastes it is very important to categories them into avoidable and unavoidable before starting finding solution for them.

Cost of not doing right first time

One of the lean manufacturing principles used in achieving its objective of waste free manufacturing is doing things right first time. Of cause anyone can understand it is less costly in terms of money, time and other resources to do things correctly in one go. But have you ever thought what is the cost of not doing correct first time?

If you make a mistake and if it goes undetected in the production facility, you will end up with a defective product. If it goes through final checks undetected to the customer, customer will loose trust on your product and organization. You might have to face legal problems as well. But let’s assume you detected the problem in the final checkup.

If you throw your defective product away you loose all the work went in to making that product, raw materials and other resources. So you waste your valuable resources and produce nothing.

If you want to rework the product, you will have to undo the problematic work first. Then you have to rework your product. So you first produce the defective product, then you reverse what you have already done. Finally you make the good product. So you are putting three times the effort in terms of time, work and possibly raw materials and other resources to produce only one product.

Lean manufacturing has techniques to avoid problems like this. If even by accident there is a defective product, then it will be identified immediately and actions will be taken to rectify the problems. Therefore here is a very slim chance of making a defective product.

Culture and lean manufacturing

If you have noticed many lean manufacturers are from the Asian region. Toyota of cause the leader in lean. Lean manufacturing boom came few years back and surely hit almost all the larger manufacturers allover the world. But still there are very little amount of western organizations have achieved success with lean manufacturing or similar techniques.

When it comes to lean manufacturing it is team work. Team working is nothing new for the Asians. It is in their blood. Also the religious background in Asian countries helps the concepts like team work, continuous improvement and perfection. Satisfying the others needs and helping others is one of the corner stones of Asian culture. This concept plays the major role in Toyota production system. It is all about satisfying the customer.

Culture and lean manufacturing are tightly bound to each other. Few lean manufacturers like Toyota has gone through the barrier of cultural differences and implemented lean manufacturing in western manufacturing facilities. There are many other western organizations who is doing fine with lean manufacturing. So it is very clear that it is not impossible to implement lean manufacturing in western world. But differences in cultures must be studied and understood clearly before the implementations.