Lean Manufacturing: Streamlining Solutions Through Custom Equipment

Is lean manufacturing the right methodology for your business?

Depending on how long you’ve been in the manufacturing space, you’ve probably seen a lot of manufacturing buzzwords come and go. Six Sigma, for instance, may have had its heyday when employed at General Electric in 1995, but it has been criticized for its over-reliance on statistical tools and whether it actually provides value for companies. Fortune magazine suggests that “of 58 large companies that have announced Six Sigma programs, 91 percent have trailed the S&P 500 since.”

With statistics like this, it is only fair to be skeptical of frameworks promising similar results. But stripping away the nonsense, the industry as a whole has begun shifting towards what is referred to as Lean Manufacturing, a methodology developed by Toyota and used by companies like Intel, John Deere, and Nike.

Rather than using complicated, even indecipherable jargon to point towards metrics of success, lean manufacturing identifies where value lies to the customer, minimizing waste, and maximizing productivity. Custom equipment solutions can play a large role in this, particularly when the equipment you have isn’t meeting the goals you are looking to achieve.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is a methodology based around five core principles: value, the value stream, flow, pull, and perfection. These concepts are dictated by both the customer and the manufacturer, with the end goal of hitting the customer’s optimal price and maximizing company profits.

Waste is defined as anything customers do not see as valuable and don’t want to pay for, but broadly speaking can also refer to unnecessary movements or spent materials on the work floor. This could be as intensive as building customized equipment to eliminate waste and increase production, or as simple as cleaning your work station so you can find what you’re looking for more easily.

In a report polling industry changes over the past decade, continuous improvement and cost reduction remain the most cited challenge that manufacturing companies face. Implementing these strategies can also create a better work place, which can help with employee retention.

Lean Manufacturing Provides Value from Customer Perspective

The product that you are offering to customers may be loaded with features, but how important are those features to your customers? A swiss army knife may have tweezers, a toothpick, and a can opener included, but when all I need is a knife and a bottle opener, I could be spending unnecessary time trying to flip through the options. Given the choice between both and a noticeable price difference, my decision should be obvious.

Value is created by a manufacturer, but ultimately it is the customer who decides what that value means. Consider Apple. In 2012, they released their first MacBook Pro without a DVD drive included. At the time, this seemed heretical – for years CD-ROMs were the standard in software installation. But can you really think about the last time you used one? The decision was ultimately a success, and each new iteration of Apple technology seems to include less and less of these additional add-ons.

The Value Stream

From raw materials to disposal, the value stream encompasses the complete lifecycle of any given product. Lean manufacturing examines every aspect of this cycle and determines which parts are generating waste, in an effort to lower costs and increase productivity.

Consider the equipment that you currently have. Do you have three pieces of equipment that could be replaced by one customized to meet your company’s individual needs? Examine each aspect of your factory floor for unnecessary movement to determine where effort is being wasted.

Examining Flow

When you’re working on a factory floor, an orderly setup beats a messy one every time. Keeping things organized is more than just cleaning up though – it’s about ensuring that an employee’s work space supports their work. If people are spending extra time walking between their work stations when they could be closer together, make the change necessary to save this time.

Japanese manufacturing is known for its radical efficiency through “just-in-time delivery”. Warehouses in Japan are uncommon, as parts are often moving directly from a factory to its final destination without sitting in a space. This level of efficiency is difficult to imagine in the United States, but shows that this degree of flow is in fact possible.

Pull Systems

Perhaps the most radical rule of lean marketing is implementing a pull system instead of a push system. Push systems look at inventory needs first, with the product built to meet that projection. However, these predictions can often be inaccurate, with either too much or too little built.

Pull systems are designed only when the demand for something emerges. That means that until something is needed, machines aren’t running or generating surplus.

Lean Manufacturing Aims for Perfection by Eliminating Waste

Toyota determined that there are seven types of waste: unnecessary transportation, excess inventory, unnecessary motion, idling, over-production, over-processing, and product defects. Lean manufacturing aims to curb all of these by examining the faults in the process and overcoming them.

Pursuing perfection in these terms may seem an insurmountable task – but every little thing counts. Tackling issues on the manufacturing floor one thing at a time can allow you to fix the problem as a whole.

Lead Manufacturing Through Innovative, Quality Solutions

Custom Cut Metals builds and designs equipment that helps maximize the efficiency our clients. Sometimes the best equipment doesn’t exist yet, or requires the modification of something that does.

When you look at your manufacturing floor, think about where time is being wasted the most. Efficiency on the level of seconds wasted can quickly add up, resulting in thousands of dollars wasted over the course of production. This isn’t even including wasted materials that can be lost in the manufacturing process, or quality control measures.

An investment in quality equipment, catered to your needs, pays for itself when it minimizes time and materials ill-spent. Lean manufacturing, in conjunction with the right equipment, can spell the difference between success and failure when compared with your competition.