How to Get Lean Manufacturing Back on Track

Matt Smith
March 26, 2018
Lean manufacturing, Fishbowl BlogLean manufacturing is a way of life for many companies. You may never get a strict definition of what lean actually means in the business world — if you ask five different people, you’ll get five different answers. The core is clear, though — lean is all about cutting costs and eliminating waste while increasing manufacturing efficiency. It’s great in theory, but it’s not easy to keep on track. What can you do to keep your lean manufacturing on track, or get it back where it needs to be if it derails?

Identify Your Lean Management Type

What type of lean management program are you working with? As we’ve mentioned already, there are many different opinions on what exactly constitutes a lean management program, but it will probably fall under one of four categories:
  • Fixed State: Constantly maintaining a state of being lean.
  • Continuous Improvement Process: Taking steps to initialize a lean manufacturing process.
  • Working Methods: Learning to move toward a lean manufacturing process.
  • Application Philosophy: Using some lean methodology without transitioning entirely to lean manufacturing.
You don’t have to go fully lean to benefit from some of the philosophies that come from lean manufacturing. Start by figuring out your collective thought process on the matter — do you just want to stick to application philosophy, or do you want to take the steps to transition fully to lean manufacturing?

Technical Upgrades First, Then Training

Chances are that your hardware upgrades are going to take longer than training your employees, so the best place to start is with your equipment. Look at Toyota, which is often held up as the ideal lean manufacturing example. Lean manufacturing should be about 80 percent action and 20 percent training. Toyota is also known for tossing its employees into the deep end to see if they can swim — they’re placed in challenging situations and told to puzzle their way out. Whether or not this works for you will depend on your crew, but it is a good example of how to make your way into lean manufacturing. Once your hardware and practices are in place, it’s time to start training and ensuring all your employees, from the newest higher-up to the CEO, are on the same page. Training will be constant and ongoing while you establish your lean manufacturing protocols. Lean manufacturing, once established, can translate into a lot of benefits. The goal here is to reduce costs, as well as get rid of waste while improving efficiency and eventually product quality. Just upgrading your air compressor systems to make them more efficient can save you more than $25,000 a year, according to Quincy Compressor.

Keeping Things on Track

Once you have your protocols set up, focus needs to shift to keeping things on track. If things start getting out of sorts, it’s time to take a step back and start looking at what you need to do to fix them. Start by reducing your setup time. The exact time will vary, but, in general, you want to keep setup time down to 10 minutes or 10 percent of your overall run time. Don’t get into the craziness. Take things one step at a time, focusing on the fundamentals before you start bringing in the flourishes. Fabricators and Manufacturers Association recommends building up a solid foundation so you may never have to worry about your manufacturing going off track. If you’re having trouble staying lean, figure out where things started to go wrong. If you’ve got a solid foundation, the worst you can do is fall back to that foundation and start from square one. There’s nothing wrong with going back to the beginning if you can’t find the point where things started to fall apart — you may find you end up with a better end product if you just start over. Lean manufacturing is all about getting the most efficiency and quality for the least amount of effort. Take the time to build yourself a good foundation before you start building your lean manufacturing profile. This might be the best decision you ever make, at least where your manufacturing is concerned, but only if you take the time to do it right.