Five Helpful Lean Tools Manufacturers Can Use Today to Improve Productivity

Posted by Rick Winkler on Aug 21, 2020 11:19:30 AM

leannnLean manufacturing uses many lean tools to improve production and efficiency by getting the most out of each resource. The goal of lean manufacturing is to find better ways to do things – requiring less effort, less time, and fewer resources.

Some lean tools may be more appropriate for one business than another. Apply only those that will most effectively meet the need of the issue you are trying to resolve. Currently, in my experience Value Stream Mapping (Manufacturing and Transactional), 5S, Kanban, Kaizen, and Focus PDCA are among the most useful lean tools.

1. Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a visual lean diagnostic tool that helps organizations optimize manufacturing and production. Mapping helps to build the roadmap to the ideal future state.

Value stream maps are typically used to analyze the current process, highlight problems, and develop solutions for a system-wide change. As the name suggests, VSM provides a visual aid or map that helps participants understand the current problems by:

  • Displaying the interaction between all items within the process
  • Bringing secondary items to the forefront (scheduling, department workflow, material management, etc.)
  • Visually representing information and material flow throughout the process
  • All being done typically in a single document that is easy to read and understand

By visually mapping the relationships of all items within a process, potential problems and losses (wasted time, resources, or materials) are easier to identify. Potential solutions become clear. As the process continues, solutions are visually represented in a manner that allows all parties to understand the impact or change to the original process. A system-wide process change can then be implemented much more effectively.

Through the VSM life cycle, all new or updated processes are represented by an updated visual map or otherwise known as a future state map, which allows the process of improvement to continue. Because this lean tool supports continuous improvements, it can be used in support of Kaizen.

2. 5s – Workplace Organization

The 5S system is designed to improve efficiency through a systematic approach to organization and cleanliness in the workplace. The system includes five fundamental guidelines (five S’s) that help improve workplace efficiency. The five S’s are Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. In practice, 5S makes workplaces more efficient and effective by:

  • Removing unneeded items from each work area (Sort)
  • Arranging each unique work area to maximize efficiency (Set)
  • Cleaning each work area after every shift to help find and eliminate issues before they become major problems (Shine)
  • Documenting improvements so they can be more easily applied in other work areas as well as being used to bring new personnel up to speed quicker (Standardize)
  • Making sure each step is repeated to ensure continuous improvement (Sustain).

NOTE: The most difficult part of making a 5S program work is Sustaining what was done in the first 4s’s. Lacking the discipline to sustain leads to the failure of many of these programs.

As a lean tool, 5S is used in many industries, including manufacturing, software, and healthcare. It can be one of the easiest lean tools to start with, and it can be used with Kaizen and Kanban to create the most efficient workplace possible.

3. Kanban

Kanban is a visual production system in which a supply of parts is delivered to the production line as needed, increasing efficiency. This lean tool works by making sure that workers have what they need, where they need it, and when they need it.

Historically, employees used Kanban cards to signal when they needed more parts, and new parts were not delivered until there was a card signaling a demand for new parts. More recently, physical Kanban cards are being replaced by a system that electronically signals demand, using specialized software. More commonly known as E-Kanban, the system can automatically request new parts using a series of barcodes that are scanned to signal when new parts are needed.

Using Kanban, employers can more easily manage inventory and reduce unneeded stock focusing, instead, on the items that need to be stockpiled. In turn, facilities can react to actual needs, rather than making guesses to anticipate the future, reducing waste and improving efficiency.

Kanban is entwined with Kaizen in that teams and individuals are encouraged to participate in continuously improving Kanban solutions and overall production processes. Kanban, as a lean tool, can be implemented in conjunction with Kaizen and 5S.

4. Kaizen

Dating back to World War II, Kaizen is a Japanese word that translates to “change for the good” and was used to rebuild after the war. The APICS Dictionary defines a kaizen event as the “implementation arm of a lean manufacturing program” and notes that events typically are carried out in one week. In other words, it is all about action.

When used correctly, this lean tool fosters continuous improvement in quality, technology, processes, productivity, company culture, and safety. Kaizen leverages knowledge and ingenuity from every employee, from upper management to the cleaning crew. As a result, suggestions for improvement come from every area of the business: production, procurement, management, logistics, finance, and so on. In most cases, individual improvements do not lead to major changes by themselves; rather, a continuous stream of small changes leads to major improvements in productivity, safety, and effectiveness while reducing waste.

A more modern use of Kaizen is to plan events, commonly known as Kaizen Events. Kaizen Events are official activities designed to create rapid change in the workplace. Used in support of the Kaizen process, these events target specific areas that need to be improved. Intense effort is then spent until the targeted area has been improved, usually over the span of one or two weeks. This approach is especially useful in getting people on-board with Kaizen because it results in dramatic changes in a short period of time. Kaizen Events should be used to support the overall Kaizen process.

Companies that practice Kaizen develop a culture in which employees feel empowered to make suggestions anywhere improvements can be made, whether in their own department or elsewhere.

5. Focus Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)

Focus PDCA is an organized, logical approach to improving business processes. It is a variation of the original Plan-Do-Check-Act process, and it includes steps that its predecessor omits. This lean tool’s strength comes from its clear, no-nonsense steps.

The purpose of Focus PDCA is to provide a structure that guides the process of problem solving and process improvement. This approach establishes a comprehensive analysis, response, action plan, and feedback loop to ensure success.

IMEC’s lean and continuous improvement experts are prepared to help you plan and implement daily behaviors that eliminate wasteful, non-value-added functions, resulting in improved productivity and efficiency. Contact us to learn more about the above tools and more, or to get started on your journey to becoming a lean manufacturer. 

Get in Touch with a Lean Expert

Rick Winkler

Written by Rick Winkler

Topics: lean Manufacturing, manufacturing, operations, continuous improvement, productivity, COVID-19

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