Embracing Lean Manufacturing!

Lean manufacturing is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, and it’s easy to see why. We’re just starting to explore how it can benefit us, and thought we’d pass on what we’ve learned so far! This blog post explores the principles of lean manufacturing and how we’re looking to implement them to improve things for our customers and ourselves.

Image showing the word lean with icons representing aspects of lean manufacturing

What is lean manufacturing?

The term “lean” manufacturing was coined to describe a production philosophy and management approach which minimizes waste while maximising efficiency, quality, and value. It champions continuous improvement and customer focus in all aspects of a company’s operations. Put simply, it encourages you to change anything that prevents your company from reaching its full potential! 

Where did the idea of lean manufacturing come from?

The idea of lean manufacturing originated from the Toyota Production System (TPS), which was developed in Japan. In the aftermath of World War II, Toyota needed to rebuild their manufacturing capabilities with limited resources and a focus on efficiency. The key objectives were to eliminate waste, increase productivity, and enhance the overall value delivered to customers. TPS became so successful that it gained international recognition, and other companies began adapting the principles to improve their own production systems. Today, lean manufacturing principles are widely applied across various industries globally, extending beyond their origins in automotive manufacturing.

Close-up image of bamboo stems

What concepts are most important for lean manufacturing?

Respect This applies to both customers and employees. Customers should be shown respect by companies fostering open and honest communication, and ensuring that they are not let down by production delays. Employees should be shown respect by recognising their expertise, providing training, and creating an environment that encourages innovation and problem-solving, as well as involving them in the decision-making process. 

Responsibility - Employees are given ownership of certain tasks/areas to foster feelings of involvement, responsibility, and pride in their work. 

Continuous improvement (Kaizen) - Foster a culture of continuous improvement, encouraging employees at all levels to identify and implement small, incremental changes to enhance efficiency and quality.

Just-in-Time (JIT) - Produce only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the quantity required by the customer. This minimises inventory costs and reduces the risk of obsolescence.

Standardisation - Establish standardised work processes to ensure consistency, reduce errors, and make it easier to identify deviations and areas for  improvement. 

Autonomation (Jidoka) - Incorporate automation to detect defects and stop the production process accordingly, preventing the production of faulty products and promoting quality.

Elimination of Waste (Muda, Mura, Muri) - Identify and eliminate the three types of waste—Muda (non-value-adding activities), Mura (inconsistency), and Muri (overburden). This helps streamline processes and resources. By removing unnecessary effort from jobs we allow employees to used their time where it adds actual value.

Mistake-proofing (Poka-yoke) - Eliminating defects by preventing mistakes from happening in the first place. “Don’t blame the person, blame the process”

Kanban - A system of visual signals used to manage the flow of materials and information.

Hansei - Learning from mistakes to foster continuous improvement.

The five S's – which stand for Seiri (Sort), Seiton (Simplify), Seiso (Sweep), Seiketsu (Standardize), and Shitsuke (Sustain).

Image of a worker interacting with a collaborative robot arm

How do you make lean manufacturing work for a business?

The main principles for implementing lean manufacturing are as follows:

Define Value

The first step towards lean manufacturing is understanding and defining value. Value is defined by the customer’s needs and requirements. By identifying what adds value from the customer’s perspective, companies can improve their processes to deliver products and services that meet or exceed customer needs and expectations.

Map the value stream

The next step is to map the value stream. This involves visually representing your entire production process, from stocking the raw materials to the final delivery of the product or service. This helps to identify all of the steps, activities, and information flows involved in delivering value. By analyzing the value steam, organizations can pinpoint areas of waste, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies to streamline the overall process.

Create flow

We then find ways to optimize work flow, which involves organising the entire production process to ensure a smooth and continuous flow of materials and information throughout. This includes people, equipment, materials, and shipping. The principle of flow aims to minimise interruptions, delays, and idle time by eliminating unnecessary steps and optimizing the sequence of tasks. This increases efficiency, and makes the workplace much more user-friendly.

Establish pull

The next step is implementing a pull system, where production is based on actual customer demand rather than forecasted estimates or predetermined schedules. This principle aims to avoid overproduction and excess inventory by aligning production with real-time customer needs. Pull systems are implemented using signals, kanban systems, or similar methods.

Seek perfection

Seeking perfection means an ongoing pursuit of continuous improvement (Kaizen). This principle means constantly refining and enhancing processes to adapt to changing conditions, eliminate waste, and strive for excellence in quality, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

 Diagram showing the key steps for implimenting lean manufacturing

By embracing the lean manufacturing principles of respect, continuous improvement, and the reduction of waste, we aim to revolutionize our operational processes and fortify our commitment to excellence! Lean workspaces maximize efficiency, but also foster employee empowerment and customer satisfaction. It’s not about changing what we do, it’s about finding better ways to do it!

We’re always talking about ways for our customers to improve production and increase efficiency with the right equipment. Contact our team directly via info@ae-sewingmachines.co.uk to arrange a site visit, and we will recommend equipment to improve your production process, whether it be lifting tables for ergonomic working or automated machinery to deskill tricky sewing processes! 

 Image showing two AE Sewing Machines vans in front of an NHS factory

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