The Lean Bug!

Whatever you think of when you see the words “Lean Manufacturing” or “Lean Thinking” you cannot get away from the fact it is a set of business principles, which, when applied, deliver exceptional results.

Over my career, I have seen the impact and benefit that Lean Manufacturing brings to any size of business, from an Engineer (in the 90s) working at an Small SME to a Corporate Exec (2009) implementing Lean Strategies.

I personally got the bug for Lean working for a small company called Linread Northbridge (although part of McKechnie Plc). We were making precision fasteners for several sectors but predominately Aerospace. The MD at the time gave me a book to read on “Kaizen” and I was hooked. From then on I have implemented Lean within every business I have worked in to now helping Manufacturing SMEs with short, high impact Interventions to major Lean Programmes and Strategies.

My first Kaizen event in the 90s was facilitating a SMED event on a Header Machine that took a whole shift to change-over from one product to the next, being trained, coached and mentored by a Japanese Sensei. We got the change-over down to 30 minutes. Through using the correct KPIs and driving root cause analysis I’ve increased production output and capacity in manufacturing cells that businesses have said couldn’t be done. I’ve moved 100+ machining centres within 5 days to create flow and as an Exec have put in place Strategies that realised Savings of +£15m within its first year.

Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

I’ve heard the words “it won’t work here” more times than anything and I can tell you it’s Bu&*s*&t. The smallest improvement can have the biggest impact and everyday day is a day to grow and develop your potential. (Marginal Gains – The doctrine of marginal gains is all about small incremental improvements in any process adding up to a significant improvement when they are all added together.)

The skill is adapting, modifying and re-designing those business principles to ensure you get measurable and sustained business performance, after all in its simplest form all you are doing is looking at a time line from ‘Sales & Marketing through to production, production through to Customer Delivery’ and reducing that time line by removing the Non-Value Added wastes within it. Yes there are loads of tools and techniques that go hand in hand with that, but the biggest one is leveraging the knowledge within your people to drive continuous improvement.
Lean Manufacturing is not merely a set of mutually supporting techniques, it’s a change in the organisation’s culture and thought processes. The benefits to any business (regardless of size) are huge, and are only limited (in my opinion) by your Organisation’s Culture and Leadership Behaviour. Companies that fully commit to Lean dramatically outperform their competitors over time.
So get as close as possible to where the work is being done, lead from the ground up to first find what the real problems are and then face and resolve the underlying challenges.

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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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