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LEAN – Do you have the appetite and diet to get there?

So what is LEAN anyway? Webster defines lean as “to incline, deviate, or bend from a vertical position.”

Oh wait, that’s the verb, definitely not what we are talking about here.  The definition of lean (adjective) describes an item or thing as “deficient in an essential or important quality, richness, sufficiency, or productivity.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.  I saw quality and productivity in there.  Wait, that’s still not right.

“Having a noticeably small amount of body fat.  All of the marathoners are extremely lean.”  Yes, that’s the one.  Think of your manufacturing business climate as a marathon race, and your factory is that marathoner.  Synonyms: lithe, slender, slim, and svelte.  Yep, a marathon runner.

If the (world-class) marathoner eats and trains to reduce excess body fat, then when we use LEAN in a pure manufacturing connotation, the focus is on WASTE reduction in the operation, and the relentless elimination of those activities that generate waste.  Are you relentless?  Whether you are or not, rest assured, your competition is.

To transform a waste-laden process to that of a LEAN process, one must first understand what those wastes are and how to identify them.

Let’s review the eight wastes: Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overprocessing, Overproduction, Defects, and Skills.  Transportation is the movement of items or information within the process. Inventory includes items or information that reside within the operation.  Motion refers to excessive movement of the people operating within the process.  Waiting includes time spent waiting for information or items to arrive at the different stages of the process.  Overprocessing includes all work done in excess of the customer requirement or standard to make the product or deliver the service.  Overproduction is making or producing more than is immediately needed to satisfy customer demand.  Defects include the mistakes, errors, and subpar product that requires rework or remanufacture.  Last on the list, but not the least important, is the waste of Skills.  This refers to the inefficient (or worse, nonexistent) use of employee skills and abilities.

Now that we have reviewed the eight wastes, how do you go about identifying them and putting a plan in place to eliminate them?  Simple. Hire a talented Top-100 Supply Chain Partner firm like St. Onge Company, with a core of experienced manufacturing engineers well-versed in planning and implementing foundational LEAN manufacturing, starting with the Identification and Elimination of Waste.  Our consistent and time-proven approach to defining, planning, and executing shop floor LEAN programs, be it your first 5S Training Workshop or a more complex 6-Sigma project, yields consistent, successful results that match our clients’ diets and appetites.

I know, I know.  Why should I pay someone else to do this?  Well, that’s a simple answer, once you answer for yourself why you haven’t already “done it” internally. Internal resources sometimes cannot see “the forest for the trees,” in large part due to increased urgency and increased demands and stressors.  Those daily demands also cloud the bigger picture of changing operations for the long haul and the needed activities to support those changes.  An experienced and seasoned St. Onge engineer can perform a two- to three-day evaluation of your operation and identify thousands of dollars in potential savings or improvement opportunities.  That same resource also brings career experience and process knowledge to identify, plan, and execute achievable improvements that will transform your operation.

Waste elimination activities can range from very simple and quick-hit to very detailed and more complex with longer implementation times.  It truly depends on the opportunity, and we certainly can help you with all of the implementation efforts.  Our manufacturing engineers have led numerous waste reduction efforts and can certainly provide training to your internal folks to continue future work.

So what do you gain by eating the LEAN recipe and reducing/eliminating waste in your manufacturing process?  Reductions in inventory, increased available working capital, reduced direct and indirect labor, reduced lead times and indirect process support, faster total production time, better quality, and lower cost per unit.  Isn’t this what every manager, controller, CFO, CEO, and COO really want?  Your workforce also gains new individual skills for future job opportunities, they visibly contribute to the success of the company in an authentic and meaningful way, and they help leadership drive a culture of teamwork and success through relentless and iterative improvement.  Isn’t this what your shop floor associates want?

When people hear the word LEAN in a manufacturing operation, they may erroneously hear “workforce reduction” due to misuse of the term in some manufacturing sectors over the last few decades.  This is not the primary objective of a LEAN journey, but most LEAN programs do seek to achieve “same output with fewer resources” or “more output with same resources.”  Healthy organizations utilize the internal talent and expertise of shop floor employees, make improvements (rapidly and often) to reduce the direct labor required in those processes, then redeploy those resources to work on new products and new service offerings.  Let’s not forget, those same shop floor employees are the very folks who live it and do it every day – who else would be able to provide better insight as to what could and should be done to improve?

LEAN is not a “magic bullet” diet pill like we see on TV; it is a long steady journey of diet and exercise.  It requires top management support, encouragement, and interaction.  It requires consistency and standardization.  As the marathoner eats and trains daily, so does the LEAN implementer.  Every day, every week, every month, another one to two seconds off my best time, better today than I was yesterday.  As manufacturing costs, customer demands, and expectations go up, LEAN waste reduction activities should be naturally continuous and become an integral part of every manufacturer’s daily life.  Do you have the appetite and diet to get there?  If you have the burn to wake up tomorrow, eat the right healthy breakfast, and try to take another two seconds off your time, and then do it again the day after tomorrow and the next day and the next day, then yes, you do.

–Mike Noll, St. Onge Company

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