Customer expectations of reliable quality and rapid delivery forces today’s manufacturers to either shorten cycle times or lose business. Customers simply switch suppliers when others are more capable of delivering within their preferred timeframes. Lean systems have provided a formidable operating strategy for leaders determined to achieve and maintain optimal operational systems and customer satisfaction levels. There are multiple good models for lean manufacturing operations. ISO publishes guidelines for conformance to its standards. “5S” programs are taught in some business college courses, and the SCOR model is also utilized. There are programs that emphasize rapid, or low-cost implementation. And, most models are applicable to any business size or integrated corporate structure.
A company in need of lean manufacturing practices tends to be easy to identify, typically displaying multiple of the following symptoms of operational deficiency:
Lean manufacturing implementation should not be undertaken until top management firmly supports the initiative and is clear that many processes will be changed. After careful planning, test implementation on one product line to demonstrate proof of concept regarding your design for implementation prior to broad-scale execution.
The now outmoded MRP scheduling approach too often moves inventory into stock that doesn’t reflect customer needs and cannot efficiently make frequent adjustments to accommodate variations in those needs. Consequently, unnecessarily prolonged lead times and excess inventory are used to compensate for the poor system, and compromised customer service is the outcome. Employ a system that replenishes inventories by gauging actual rates of depletion.
Migrate to lean manufacturing-friendly software, integrating departments and suppliers as appropriate to capacitate optimal flow of information and coordination of diverse activities. This is often the most challenging and expensive step in conversion to lean manufacturing operating, but the payoffs in operational efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction make it well worth the investment. Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) software can be an ideal tool for managing customer services, inventory allocations, scheduling, and other functions—eliminating countless routine hand-to-hand transfers of information that prolong the fulfillment process.
Insufficient metrics employed by many business leaders often reflect only on areas like production labor efficiency and equipment usages—focusing inordinate amounts of emphasis on improvement in these isolated areas and failing to identify performance issues throughout the company. In addition, establishing a well-rounded set of metrics, set up self-monitoring metrics that hold individuals accountable for tracking their own levels of participation in the lean program. Conduct routine assessments. Most employees soon come to appreciate the advantages of working in a lean facility:
Close coordination with suppliers is necessary to optimize your lean manufacturing program. Some suppliers may need to upgrade their own systems or processes to match your company’s new capabilities. Sharing visibility of your customers’ consumption rates transforms the supply chain companies into a unified group with a singular goal with respect to your company’s needs. Such integration affords your business exciting benefits:
Some capital expenditures may be necessary, but most substantial improvements from lean manufacturing are achievable with existing equipment. Decisions to invest in lean come much more easily when management views it as a strategy for increasing competitiveness, revenues, market share, profit margin and reducing labor and inventory costs. Considering that if competitors gain too much ground in these areas, it may become less clear that your company can continue to compete. The question may be whether or not your company can afford not to invest in lean operations.
Customer satisfaction is your money-maker. Unifying the entire organization, and linking in your entire supply chain, dramatically improves both management and staff productivity, eliminating redundancy. Excess layers of paperwork are stripped away from queues throughout the fulfillment process, and priorities are clarified automatically.
Some manufacturing facilities merely pretend to have a lean manufacturing program in order to impress customers, incurring what they view as a superfluous cost to maintain the lean façade. They have no intention to actually improve operational efficiency. They see lean as an encumbrance instead of as a true model of what they could accomplish in quality, efficiency, cost savings, and more meaningful customer satisfaction. But, symptoms of “fake lean” are often readily apparent to customers who tour, or even who deal remotely with, manufacturing facilities.
Lean manufacturing principles are highly valued by businesses worldwide. Today’s competitive global environment demands lean operation. Lean principles are understood to eliminate wastefulness and direct focus only on practices that honor customers and increase value in the products offered them. Lean ultimately cultivates business cultures concentrated on mutual problem solving. Such cultures empower and encourage all team members to contribute to quality operations. Facilitating communications throughout the organization and its supply chain develops a harmonious way of doing business that is very attractive to quality personnel, the pivotal resource for sustainability of the high quality production and customer service requisite for competitive advantage in the modern marketplace.
What is your take on lean manufacturing? Have you ever experienced true lean manufacturing implementations? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
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