Lean Manufacturing

What You Need to Know About Lean Manufacturing Tools

By Bob Argyle
07 Feb 20

Before we talk about Lean Manufacturing Tools, let's touch on a couple foundational points.

Over the years Lean Manufacturing or Lean Manufacturing Principles have been presented to us by consultants and academics (through books) as this complex and difficult matrix of Japanese terms and concepts. Well, let me share something none of them want you to know. It's not that complex. In fact it's so simple that it's really just common sense.

Lean Manufacturing in a nutshell is centered around making things better, easier, and more efficient. It's about the focus on adding more value to the process by elimination of waste or non-value-added activities. It's no harder than that! Just like everything else we as humans have invented or created to make our lives easier. Lean Manufacturing is about making things easier and more efficient on the manufacturing floor.

 

Lean Production Is About Seeing Opportunities 

So if lean is about making things easier and more efficient then we can say Lean Production is about producing products more efficiently. So, how do we do this?

Well, once again it's not difficult; its actually very easy. First we must make problems and waste, or what I like to call "opportunities," seen by everyone. Once we can see the opportunities we then need to take action! Action is the key to Lean success and is why people are so crucial to any Lean Management System. Once we take action we need to ensure that we sustain our improvements. 

 

Lean Tools

Generally, Lean Tools are anything that can help us to see problems, take action, and sustain the improvement. We call this Continuous Improvement. Continuous Improvement is a way of life and a culture of doing business. It's something that never ends because there will always be opportunities to improve. 

If you look at the world today there are many examples of Lean Tools that we use everyday. Take for example, road maps. Road maps used to be on paper, and to arrive at a location we'd never been before we had to map out our path before leaving, which took time.

Once we started our journey we had to pull over to make sure we were still on the right path or have somebody in the passenger seat to navigate.

It's now much easier with digital navigation systems. If you don't have one in your car, you've got one on your phone. It's totally changed the way we navigate today.

It's now very easy to navigate directly to a destination that before may have taken much longer (assuming we didn't get lost in the process).

 

Lean Manufacturing Tools

What are some examples of Lean Manufacturing tools? 

Visibility (Problems are SEEN)

As I said earlier we need to make problems or opportunities visible. The challenge is making sure they're seen.

I see a lot of manual examples that fall short for this reason. Because they're not real-time, and they're difficult to keep updated, you get an inaccurate view of yesterday's news. Thanks to the evolution of new technologies (i.e., lean manufacturing tools), making opportunities for improvement visible has never been easier. We can now notify and escalate problems to the right people at the right time. This helps ensure the issues are not only visible but are seen and action is taken. 

Action

Which brings me to my next point. Once problems are seen, we need tools to track and monitor action. I can't emphasize this enough. If all you have is a system that flags or notifies that there is a problem, but there is no tool to track the response, the corrective action, and the follow up, then it's probably not going to give you the results your looking for.

Once again thanks to technology advances, especially in cloud computing, we can quickly disperse information and track the actions taken. Take for example the recent coronavirus outbreak.  There's a  website that uses a cloud-based method to track and show in detail how the virus is spreading in real-time. Tools like this will help escalate action and minimize the problem. 

Imagine if this was all done manually on paper. It couldn't be done! That's where lean manufacturing tools come in handy. 

Problem Solving

In our manufacturing facilities we also need lean manufacturing tools to help track and drive problem solving. This is critical because we don't want to just correct the problem this time, we need to make sure it never happens again in the future, whenever possible. Excel spreadsheets are a commonly used tool for this but the problem is that it's difficult to track and share solutions. Cloud based solutions provide a quick and easy way to not only track your problem solving but to also quickly share the solution with other sites all over the world.

Sustainability 

Finally, we need tools that help us sustain not only our corrective actions but more importantly our culture of Continuous Improvement. This is the most difficult part of Lean Manufacturing and where most companies fail. The solution however is quite simple and goes back to the beginning of this article. By making Lean seem complex and difficult to understand, many companies end up surrounding their Lean Production System with complex tools that are hard to use and difficult to maintain.

It's also important to note that the lean manufacturing tools must serve the people on the shop floor (make their jobs easier), not the reverse where people serving the tool (cumbersome task). For these reasons many Lean Production Systems struggle to sustain over the long term.

Summary

We live in a time where Lean Manufacturing doesn't need to be overly complex and confusing (only understood by a select few). Today we have technology and tools that can help facilitate a common sense Lean Management System that everyone understands and can contribute too. While the lean principles of the past are still very much relevant, the methods of the past need to stay in the past, just like paper maps for navigation. They served their purpose but it's a new day, a new time and a different way of doing things. Lean should be easy and fun!

See how the right lean manufacturing tools can make improvement simple and easy.

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