How many times have we all ordered a big and juicy T-bone steak at our favorite restaurant and when the server brought it over to us sizzling with delicious aroma to our table… How heartbroken were we to find that it had tons of excess FAT that still needed to be trimmed off before we could sink in for that first bite? Who wants a bunch of FAT that we can’t chew or digest? And remember that feeling of “What a waste of money” as we cut off all the extra fat and piled it up on the side of the plate? As we all know, steakhouses charge quite a bit for a good 20 ounce T-bone, don’t they? So, it WAS like throwing money away whenever we had to cut off those extra ounces of NOTHING edible.
Imagine the manufacturing industry like that expensive T-bone dining experience. Like a steak lover, manufacturing companies who want to save money first do one important thing: They always TRIM THE FAT!
An Interesting Thought: Lean manufacturing is about much more than just how a product is made or how efficiently it was made. In fact, ‘Thinking LEAN’ is more about how we all see life and business overall. Once the 8 wastes are identified and noted in manufacturing, these principles can be easily adapted into many kinds of daily decision making choices, even in our personal lives. Whether it’s shredding useless old files to toss out for extra space, getting a lighter laptop with more memory or opting for that healthy smoothie vs a big high calorie breakfast, we all need ‘lean thinking’ beyond the ideas of manufacturing.
Where Does All of This Begin?
Every time we buy something at a department store, it was first ordered from the designer and then sent out to the big stores from the designer’s manufacturer. Sometimes, manufacturers send in huge batches of merchandise. Along the way, it was discovered that more focus on waste and productivity can save manufacturers time AND money. This process is called LEAN MANUFACTURING.
Let’s look at it this way…
We can create an imaginary new dress designer Mary Bell. She’s just became the hottest new trending fashion sensation on Twitter and Instagram! Great news for Mary who has outgrown her small boutique selling experience. Her dresses are selling faster than she can make them! So now, due to all of the new popularity for her snazzy dresses, Mary now would need to start mass producing her dress orders to sell at several huge department store chains. Now the pressure is on for Mary Bell! She has to NOT ONLY make sure that her dress orders are all shipped out on time but, she needs to first ensure that the dresses are mass produced without flaws or defects. Mary has to be a boss now! She has to hire a competent team to help her and make a system that will meet her budding company’s needs. If Mary’s profit margin is $20 per dress, on a huge order of 100 dresses per batch, she would need to have a manufacturing process that makes her look like a seasoned pro to all of her big department store buyer accounts. If Mary Bell has no reliable lean manufacturing process, she will be leaving her product vulnerable to all kinds of COSTLY problems that may arise and ultimately hurt her bottom line and her reputation and brand.
Lean manufacturing is an exciting time for designers like Mary.
It means you made it to the big leagues!
Ok so that all sounds nice but… What is the LEAN manufacturing process?
Before we dive into defining lean manufacturing, let’s go back for a second to how we get to the place in the lean manufacturing process for companies where their other processes STOPPED being enough for their business model. For example, an great time in a small fashion designer’s journey is when they have outgrown their small production past and now need to manufacture many more products in a shorter period of time. This is when they usually start lean manufacturing, the art of saving time and money while creating new products.
How did all the magic of LEAN manufacturing begin?
Taiichi Ohno who created the infamous Toyota Production System (TPS) changed how we all see time and production forever in manufacturing. He took the entire “trimming off the fat” concept into the world of the manufacturer at Toyota back in his days at Toyota. In fact, Ohno even made an entirely new term for the idea of ‘fat’ or waste of creating Toyotas. He called waste ‘Muda’. So Ohno didn’t just change everything with the process but, he even named the 8 types of wastes that directly influence lean manufacturing.
Ready for even MORE fun?
There’s an easy way to remember them for today’s manufacturers. They can simply call it ‘Downtime’ and see them the following ways:
Here’s the 8 Wastes of Lean Manufacturing:
Ready for even more fun? The acronym for them is DOWNSIZE.
What Are The Most Common Problems That Lean Manufacturers Try To Avoid?
Manufacturers often experience some problems that are just unavoidable however, every experienced and successful manufacturer has learned that smooth sailing in the production process first begins in AVOIDING pitfalls before they arise vs. costly and time consuming problem solving after it’s too late!
Rewind back to the term ‘Downtime’ noted above. Now, let’s dig deeper into the 8 ‘wastes’ of lean manufacturing, in the order that they are usually numbered:
Imagine buying 20 loaves of bread just to go home to make only 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What would become of all the extra bread? It’ll eventually spoil and would need to be tossed out in the garbage. The money spent on the bread will also be wasted. Overproduction is the same principle in manufacturing. If it isn’t being used for production or sold, it’s just considered a waste. Overproduction can be avoided easily by having more structure, better accounting and/or more emphasis on production accuracy.
Patience may be a virtue in our personal lives however, in lean manufacturing, ‘waiting’ is a cancer to the overall flow of production. Time management and schedules are important in maintaining overall production deadlines, shipping and delivery dates. Waiting on any delays can cost manufacturers dearly. The ‘Time is money’ line didn’t come from nowhere. It’s so true! Waiting on things to begin in business is a slow killer in momentum and in production time.
In lean manufacturing, movement is very important. From delivery trucks of supplies and product, to the movement of machinery and people on and beyond the production floor… a problem in transportation is an overall work and production problem. A broken down belt on the line is no good at getting the products created on deadline. This would be an example of a waste in transportation. Until the transportation works best, it hinders the product movement.
- Excess Processing
Imagine all of the tons of paper files and storage space that it took to keep records 20 years ago. When offices needed to keep records for regulation, there were no emails or electronic signatures so everything had to be printed and hard copied. If a manufacturer needed to send a letter, it was probably faxed back then. Nowadays, lots of paper filing would be considered excess processing. Ordering duplicates of basic supplies would also be considered another example of excess processing.
- Unnecessary Inventory
Inventory excess should not be confused with #2 on the list of wastes, overproduction. Inventory excess is the waste of supplies and materials that are not being used to create the products for sale. For example, an extra sewing machine that never helps to create the current dresses for sale is considered a waste in the cost of the machine and a waste of space in the warehouse or workplace.
- Unnecessary or excess motion
A fun way to look at this waste would be to imagine that it was a donkey! As all of the big loading machines move swiftly to get the products around the warehouse, imagine one old little donkey carrying around a few products one by one very slowly. Unless all of the lean manufacturing elements are moving up to pace, they aren’t helping the big picture of streamline production. So yes, it’s safe to say the donkey is NOT a good investment in the modern manufacturing world. Motion is movement and movement is MOMENTUM.
Defects are a waste on several levels for lean manufacturers. In Merriam-Webster, a ‘defect’ is defined as “an imperfection that impairs worth or utility. Shortcoming.” Defects can be a big waste of money, supplies, machinery, labor and time for manufacturers since they have to repair or remake the defected product. Defects can be avoided by more focus on the details in production, better overall planning and quality control and/or more accurate bookkeeping.
- Not Utilizing Talent
Just like running backs aren’t hired to throw a football and quarterbacks aren’t too useful unless they ARE throwing one, talent is only effective when the players are in their best, most useful positions on the team. The boss’ cousin may not be great at numbers so, he should maybe stay far away from the accounting department. Meanwhile that same cousin may be a creative genius who would be best on the design team. A company should make sure that its manufacturing, management and creative teams are all well positioned and that everyone support each other to keep production running smoothly. Otherwise, it’s like the classic insult, “You’re just a waste of talent”… Literally.
How Does Lean Manufacturing Help ‘Trim the Fat’ Off The Overall Bottom Line?
As we see in the 8 wastes, in the wonderful world of lean manufacturing, often when there’s a problem with production, it creates a terrible domino effect on several other levels. Costs would possibly not only come out of pocket on the manufacturer’s shipping expenses but, also can trickle down to overall returns and loss of profit on damaged or irregularly made products. Employees may even need to be asked to work extra hours to correct problems caused during the manufacturing process. Therefore, if employees are coming in on extra hours, this can lead to overtime pay but also to a need for more electricity, company cars, business expenses and supplies at the office. Again, this can create not just a bad domino effect but an EXPENSIVE one too.
So What’s The Perfect Solution?
Like most things in life, there’s no perfect science to lean manufacturing therefore, no error free solution to all the problems that manufacturers face in their daily routines. Although the lean manufacturing system can be a lifesaver in many ways, unfortunately as even the best weather specialists can tell us all, things can ALWAYS change just like the weather. In fact, weather is a great example of why forecasting in lean manufacturing can never be completely predictable. For example, if a batch is being completed on a day before a Holiday weekend and there’s a terrible tropical storm shutting down all manufacturer production centers, this could mean that the shipment would not be able to go out until AFTER the extended Holiday weekend. This would then end up giving manufacturers the huge burden of telling their buyers’ that there may be a 2-3 day ship date delay which can often result in arrivals coming in 5-7 days later than scheduled delivery deadline. So even though the manufacturer processes have great solutions to MOST problems, good ol’ BAD weather still happens sometimes in business and in everyday life to even the most ‘predictable forecasters’ and well managed manufacturer operations.
No system is 100% for anything in life.
However, now that we know about the 8 wastes in lean manufacturing, we can watch closely in our various work environments and in our personal choices to keep everything running smoothly with less delay, error, defects, broken machinery and transportation, misused talent and equipment and useless miscellaneous excess. We should also learn how to use these same LEAN thinking principals in daily processes and pay attention to how they hurt or help the overall big picture. Because afterall, what use is a big, juicy T-bone steak if you haven’t trimmed off the excess fat first?
One of the best ways to do this is to use digital signage!
How can digital signage improve LEAN manufacturing?
In MANY ways! One of the most important is with respect to the 8th waste, “Not Utilizing talent”. Digital signage communicates real-time, weekly, monthly and quarterly KPIs (key performance indicators), and helps train employees so that they understand how LEAN manufacturing works and what the priorities are. Digital signage can deliver newsletters and management messages to reinforce company culture and improve internal communication and employee engagement.