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Tips for implementing lean manufacturing practices
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You may be thinking about implementing lean manufacturing practices in your facility, or may have heard about lean manufacturing and want to know more. Whatever the case may be, these tips for implementing lean manufacturing practices can help to determine whether your manufacturing process can benefit from lean manufacturing techniques, and if so, what is the best way to go about implementing them.

Key steps in lean manufacturing implementation include: performing value-stream mapping, optimizing storage configurations, giving workers tools for success, working towards consistency, and continually reassessing what further changes will benefit your process. If you take advantage of these tips for implementing lean manufacturing practices, you can significantly cut wasted time, products, space and money, improve customer and worker satisfaction, and improve quality. If that’s appealing, let’s take a look at how to achieve these goals.

Assess your needs
You may think that you have an extensive understanding of your manufacturing process, but taking the time to assess the needs of your facility in depth and cut down on waste is the first step in implementing lean manufacturing practices. You may be surprised by what a difference just this step can make!

Work with team members from throughout your manufacturing process to determine what parts and tools are needed for current production demands. Assess everything in your production warehouse, and get rid of everything that isn’t currently being used. Depending on the item and your predicted future demands, you may choose to either relocate the item away from production areas, or to dispose of it entirely. Excess stock takes up valuable space in your production facility, slows down manufacturing and can hide production issues.

In addition, an important part of assessing your facility’s needs is performing value-stream mapping. This will help you to see what steps are currently being taken in your manufacturing process, where delays occur, where other waste may come into play, and how to resolve these issues. Value-stream mapping is essential to the streamlining process, and can be used not just to determine the current state of your manufacturing facility, but also to map out an ideal future-state process.

Reconfigure storage
Once you have a firm grasp of your facility’s needs, have developed a value-stream map and a future-state map, you can make a plan for how to implement new processes. One of the key aspects of this plan is figuring out how and where to store tools, parts and other items to most effectively use space and time.

For example, open shelving often wastes space between shelves and towards the back of each shelf, and therefore is an inefficient storage method for all but the largest, bulkiest items. High-density drawer storage can be used in its place and can dramatically reduce storage footprints. Drawer storage provides for customized subdividing, allowing similar items to be grouped together and every item to have its own clearly labeled space. This cuts down on wasted space and on searching time, enabling workers to locate specific items quickly.

Purchasing all new high-density storage units is one option for increasing storage efficiency. This opens up the option for completely customizing your storage spaces, therefore allowing for the most efficient use of space. Another option is to retrofit existing shelving with modular high-density drawer storage inserts, such as Lista International’s Shelf Converter® systems, for highly customized organization. The Lista inserts can retrofit into existing standard 24” deep shelving units, providing higher-density and more easily-organized storage for very small to medium sized items, with the option of leaving existing shelves for large items.

Finally, assessing what items need to be stored nearest to production areas and what items are best stored away from these areas will increase efficiency of production. Items that see the highest use traffic should be stored where they are used, while lower-traffic items and those that are bulky and in the way of production should be stored farther away.

Set workers up for success
Workers who are comfortable in their workspace are more likely to be successful and productive than those who feel uncomfortable. Factors that come into play in worker comfort include cleanliness, accessibility, safety, and ease of use of working environments.

Clean environments are more enjoyable to work in, and can lead to improved worker morale. Moreover, clean environments – that is, environments free from spills, dust, airborne particles, and toxic or irritating substances – are safer workplaces for everyone. Making sure that workspaces are clean should be one of the top priorities of a lean manufacturing process, and is easier to maintain when storage, workspaces, and workflow are streamlined.

The above-mentioned accessible, efficient storage solutions also have the potential to improve worker experience by cutting down tiresome, frustrating search times. In addition, work stations that include storage for the most frequently-used parts and tools are the best way to increase employee comfort and productivity simultaneously. Flexible workstations that can be adjusted to individual workers are especially useful, like the Lista International Align® Adjustable-Height Workstations, which fit into nearly any manufacturing setting and increase employees’ comfort and productivity.

Be consistent and continually reassess
Of course, these lean manufacturing practices will only bring about the desired results if they are implemented consistently. Not only does a workstation or storage area have to start out clean and organized and a process plan streamlined, but they need to remain that way. Ensuring that workers at all levels are invested in the lean manufacturing process and are accountable for maintaining the environment is crucial. In addition, you will need to adapt and change things along the way. Be sure to stay on top of how efficient the workflow is, how well practices are being implemented, and determine whether changes need to be made.

Continuous improvement is one of the main tenets of lean manufacturing, and with good reason. These tips, and all initial lean manufacturing practices, can only serve as a starting point for streamlining your manufacturing process and eliminating waste. Once lean manufacturing practices are implemented, you should continue to perform value stream mapping, identify areas where improvements can occur, plan for the future, and execute these plans. Through a continued willingness to evaluate new solutions, you will ensure that your practices, efficiency, and process flow continually improve.