Most manufacturers are looking for ways to improve production, reduce waste, streamline processes and increase profits. Lean manufacturing and quality improvement techniques live among a web of buzzwords and terminology. The terms range from Japanese nomenclature, Kaizen, Kaban and 5S to the more self explanatory “Total Productive Maintenance” and “Just in Time” concepts.
In most cases one concept is related to the others and are all tools in the lean manufacturing process. Additionally, not all of these methodologies are a perfect fit for every industry. Finding the solution that is right for you and implementing the changes can be a very industry or plant specific task.
But whether the idea originated in Japan or your hometown, the benefits of applying the principles of lean processes is being seen and is increasing the competitive edge of the industries that embrace them.
As early as 1910, auto manufacturer Henry Ford analyzed the process of assembling an automobile and thereby created a more efficient and continuous line of assembly. His profits increased rapidly and so dramatically that he quickly became one of the wealthiest men in America. When he failed, however, to make continued improvements to the process and ignored the changing needs of the customer including a choice of color and options, his competition soon surpassed his success.
Lean manufacturing today is an effort to reduce waste, minimize costs and provide just in time cost savings. It is a systematic approach to not only manufacturing, but to design and marketing as well. The lean manufacturing tools can be used to improve almost any business although not all the tools are right for every business. Two of these tools are 5S and Kaizen.
5S is a reference to five Japanese words that describe standardized cleanup.
- Seiri: tidiness, organization. Its western translation is “Sort” and refers to sorting through all tools and materials in the work area and keeping only essential items.
- Seiton: orderliness. Also known as “Straighten”, focuses on the need for an orderly workplace. Tools, equipment and materials must be systematically arranged for the easiest and most efficient access.
- Seiso: cleanliness. The western term for this is “Shine” and indicates the need to keep the workplace clean. At the end of each shift, the work area is cleaned up and everything restored to its place.
- Seiketsu: standards. “Systematize” allows for control and consistency. Basic housekeeping standards apply everywhere in the facility. Everyone knows what his or her responsibilities are.
- Shitsuke: sustaining discipline or “Sustain”. This refers to maintaining standards and keeping the facility in safe and efficient order day after day, year after year.
“Safety” is often added as a sixth S but many maintain that safety is a side benefit to disciplined housekeeping. Although the 5S program is just one of the many components of a lean initiative, the success of ones 5S implementation is an excellent predictor of the probable success of a greater lean manufacturing initiative.
So what is Kaizen? The word Kaizen means “continuous improvement”. It encompasses the 5S ideas and is a system that involves every employee from upper management to the cleaning crew. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. In most cases these are not ideas for major changes. And suggestions are not limited to a specific area such as production or marketing. Kaizen involves setting standards and then continually improving those standards.
At a replacement parts manufacturing facility like Corrugated Replacements, Inc. (CRI), the production process was analyzed and streamlined in order to gain the competitive edge with regards to turnaround times. In an industry with tight deadlines, CRI realized that shortening lead times was a valuable service to its customers. With very few exceptions, out of stock male, female and trim knives are produced in 5 days or less. Pull rolls can be produced in as little as two weeks.
By organizing raw materials, investing in advanced tooling technology and grouping like work stations to maximize work flow, CRI has set the standard for turnaround times on most of its machined parts. Understanding some of the lean processes and ideologies is the first step to implementing improvement standards that work for your company. Finding what works takes trial and error as well as an untiring commitment to improvement.