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5 Necessary Lean Manufacturing Tools

Posted by Steven Brand

Lean Manufacturing Tools CMTC

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that history is often made within our lifetime. Lean manufacturing is a movement established by Toyota Production Systems and is centered on clarifying what brings value by reducing waste. Lean is centered around increasing customer value and implementing key processes in order to continuously drive satisfaction and reduce waste simultaneously.

For small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs), Lean is an invaluable system that's paving the way for maximum output, and minimum waste during a production cycle.  While Lean features many tools of efficiency, the following are five essential tools to help managers with an overall understanding of the idea.

5 Lean Manufacturing Tools

Kaizen - Kaizen is a system that strives for continuous improvement in areas of quality, technology, processes, company culture, productivity, safety, and leadership. The idea is that every employee and every level of the organization can make suggestions for improvement. While these suggestions often do not lead to major change, over time, small improvements can add up and lead to significant reductions in wasted resources.  In Japanese, Kaizen means continuous improvement or good change.  In truly lean companies, it is a philosophy that permeates every aspect of the company’s culture.  It is the relentless pursuit of eliminating waste.

Kanban - Kanban is pull production system designed to eliminate inventory waste and overproduction. When an assembly item or stocked item begins to run low, an employee trips a visual reorder tool that triggers an automatic reorder of inventory.  The inventory is just enough to replenish the amount consumed and prevents the needless accumulation of inventory. This happens with minimal human intervention, and ensures that production continues without any hindrances or hiccups. This helps manufacturers to keep inventory low by reacting to needs, rather than making wrong guesses about order quantities.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) - VSM is a visual tool that organizations use to illustrate, analyze, and understand the flow of materials from supplier to customer as well as the flow of information within the organization. The goal of VSM is to identify production or information bottlenecks that can be eliminated by optimizing man hours, time, and material costs.

Total Quality Management (TQM) - First implemented by Western Electric Company, TQM is a comprehensive, organization-wide approach that seeks to improve the quality of products and services an organization produces. The goal of TQM is to continuously refine and fine-tune processes through the phases of the Deming Cycle: Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PDCA). TQM puts a strong emphasis on customer satisfaction and has the capability to completely streamline change the way an organization operates.

Jidoka - The concept of Jidoka first gained traction in the 19th century. The idea is to design equipment that is partially automated and will stop whenever a defect is detected. Basically, a human worker oversees an automated process and, when the process is stopped, the worker will intervene to solve the problem.

Not only does Jidoka reduce costs and improve productivity by only requiring a single worker on-site, it ultimately reduces the number of defects that are produced; which leads to increased customer satisfaction. Jidoka is the concept of “don't pass defects down-stream”, you own the problem.  We must reduce defects by preventing errors, etc.  It is often compared to poke-yokes, the concept of “error-proofing” an operation.

Guiding Principles

These lean manufacturing tools are representative of the five guiding principles of lean manufacturing, which are to identify value, map the value stream, create flow, establish pull, and seek perfection. By utilizing the above tools, manufacturers have a defined methodology to eliminate excessive waste from their production streams and improve overall efficiency.

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Topics: Lean Manufacturing, Lean Manufacturing Tools

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