The Lean Bug: Embracing The Lean Revolution in Manufacturing

Igniting Transformation with Lean Philosophy

Lean Manufacturing, a philosophy embedding a culture of efficiency and continuous improvement, has revolutionised industries worldwide. Its inception within the automotive industry to today’s widespread application showcases its universal benefit across various sectors. When considering Lean Thinking, one can’t help but admire its holistic approach to streamlining operations, enhancing product quality, and boosting customer satisfaction.

Throughout my career, from my initial days as an engineer at a small SME to my role as a corporate executive, I have witnessed firsthand Lean Manufacturing’s transformative potential. My journey into the world of Lean began with a simple yet profound introduction to the concept of Kaizen while working at Linread Northbridge, a precision fasteners manufacturer for the aerospace sector. This pivotal moment sparked a lasting passion for Lean principles that I’ve carried through to every organisation I’ve served (including my own businesses, New Way Growth, FactoryIQ and obviously TCMUK Limited), assisting Manufacturing SMEs in realising their full potential through strategic Lean interventions and comprehensive programs.

The First Step to Lean Success: A Kaizen Event

Reflecting on my first engagement with Lean, a SMED event aimed at reducing a Header Machine’s changeover time from an entire shift to a mere 30 minutes stands out. This experience, under the guidance of a seasoned Japanese Sensei, was not merely about time reduction. It was a lesson in unlocking hidden potential, leveraging precise KPIs, and fostering a mindset geared towards continuous improvement. From relocating machining centers to implementing strategies that yielded savings of over £15 million in the first year, the principles of Lean Thinking have proven time and again that with the right mindset, ‘impossible’ is merely an opinion.

Overcoming the “It Won’t Work Here” Mentality

Resistance to change is a common theme in any organisational transformation. Yet, the principle of marginal gains teaches us the power of incremental improvements. By nurturing a culture that embraces every opportunity for growth, however small, organisations can witness significant advancements over time. The essence of Lean is not in the complexity of tools or techniques but in harnessing the collective knowledge and creativity of its people to drive enduring improvement.

More Than Techniques: A Cultural Shift

Lean Manufacturing transcends mere operational tactics; it represents a fundamental shift in organisational culture and mindset. Its success is contingent not on the size of the company but on the depth of commitment to these principles by its leaders and teams. Engaging closely with the ground-level processes, understanding the real challenges, and courageously tackling the root causes, paves the way for sustainable growth and competitive advantage.

Conclusion: Lean Leadership and Organisational Excellence

The journey towards Lean excellence is ongoing and evolving. It demands a leadership style that is hands-on, empathetic, and visionary. As organisations venture into this transformative path, they unlock efficiencies, eliminate waste, and set new benchmarks of performance. The legacy of Lean is not just in its methods but in the cultural rejuvenation it brings about, fostering an environment where continuous improvement becomes the norm, not the exception.

Lean Manufacturing is more than a methodology; it’s a catalyst for redefining excellence in the manufacturing sector. So, as you delve into the world of Lean, remember, the journey is as rewarding as the destination. Embrace each challenge, celebrate every small win, and continuously strive for a better, leaner, and more efficient tomorrow.

For personalised advice, practical insights, and to explore how Lean can revitalise your manufacturing processes, please feel free to reach out.

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Automation – Don’t shy away from it.

Automation has been around for years in many different forms within manufacturing, it’s not new.

In my early days as a Kaizen Engineer with McKechnie Plc (mid 90’s) I remember purchasing machines with the ability to auto eject or unload parts when the cycle had finished ( a Lean terminology called Hanedashi). A Hanedashi device saves associate time on a production cycle by ejecting a finished part from a machine, allowing the associate bringing the next part to load the new part into the machine without having to remove the old one.

Hanedashi - Auto Eject

This device enabled the set up of Single piece flow production lines, known as Chaku Chaku Lines in the Lean terminology which means Load, Load. With these Load Load Lines, all of the machines needed to make a product are located together in a “cell.” Any part of the work that can be automated is automated. As per our Hanedashi example previously, loading a part into a machine may require getting the orientation correct, properly seating the part in a jig, and clamping it into place. This requires a human skill. However, when the machine finishes it can just release the clamp and eject the part in a fully automated process. That’s how Chaku Chaku got its name. The associate only loads the machine, and never unloads it.

Single Piece Flow - Chaku Chaku

Now we’ll introduce Jidoka into the equation, as we probably all know Jidoka is one of the two pillars of the Toyota Production System along with just-in-time. Jidoka translates to “Autonomation” or “Automation with a Human Intelligence”. Autonomation highlights the causes of problems because work stops immediately when a problem first occurs. This leads to improvements in the processes that build in quality by eliminating the root causes of defects. Autonomation gives equipment the ability to distinguish good parts from bad autonomously, without being monitored by an associate.

jidoka - autnomation

The benefits of Load Load Lines and Autonomation are significant. They include the elimination of work in progress, defect free production, and leads to large productivity gains because an associate can handle several machines, termed multi-process handling.

Now with Automation and the principles discussed above we can get very creative, I mentioned working at McKechnie Plc in mid 90’s along with a great friend of mine Wayne Pimblett, Wayne was recruited as Team Leader for a cell not so creatively named Cell 7. The cell manufactured Fasteners. The traditional route was something like, Header Machine, Turn, Centreless Grind, Fillet Roll and then Thread Roll and would pass through various machining departments as batches, across roads into different units, you can imagine the waste.

Now, Cell 7 brought all of the principles we discussed earlier together, single piece flow, Load Load Lines, Ah! I must stop here, because we actually had the cell completely autonomous so the load was automated and the movement of parts between machines, so in essence all we needed to do was bowl feed the fasteners into the start of the process and the line did everything else. With the aid of Visual cameras for in process quality inspection – Autonomation, pick and place loading/unloading, auto eject of bad parts, etc the only interaction required was machine consumables, tooling change and obviously if anything drastic happened.

AUTOMATION mixed with some creative thinking and Lean Principles can have massive benefits to your business.

Automation should not be shied away frombut you do need to know the impact, benefit, justification for your business, so do the analysis. My opinion on the this is if we have 95% Non-Value Added Waste in the surrounding processes and we concentrate on the 5% Value Add in loading/unloading a cycle our focus and cost is miss-spent. It may look fantastic but you have far more opportunity to increase productivity, reduce costs, etc outside of the cycle. Which again could be through Automation, but do the analysis.

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