Implementing Lean Manufacturing

There are several watch outs no one tells you about in advance, leaving many companies implementing lean manufacturing to learn these lessons for themselves. This article covers three of the greatest watch outs that you need to know about before implementing lean manufacturing.

Watch Out #1: Leaner manufacturing isn’t always cheaper.


Lean manufacturing can save money. Lean manufacturing can also cost money to implement. Lean manufacturing can save money when companies can reduce inventory, losses, waste and idle time. For example, managing an operation with lower inventory levels can reduce the amount of money locked up in inventory, reduce the taxes due on inventory at the end of the year and allow a business to save money on warehouse space.
Setting up a lean manufacturing environment can permit businesses to use a fraction of their original space and potentially avoid expanding into new facilities with additional overhead costs. If idle time and wasted motions are eliminated while employee productivity while working remains the same, output per employee is improved. Yet the cost of implementing lean manufacturing may exceed the cost benefit derived from lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing projects must be subjected to the same cost-benefit analysis of every other project.

The greatest opportunity to benefit from lean manufacturing is when designing new facilities, processes and assembly lines. Planning compact and highly efficient lean manufacturing operations maximizes the productivity and profitability of an operation. However, unless the organization suffered from horrific product spoilage rates, high percentages of idle time or wasteful practices at all levels, lean manufacturing will not help the company dramatically save money.

Watch Out #2: Lean manufacturing is separate from quality.

Lean manufacturing can indirectly improve quality. Reducing material handling operations reduces the risk product is damaged during material handling. Streamlining the supply chain and inventory levels can improve product quality when material no longer goes bad languishing in the warehouse. All of these benefits from lean manufacturing can improve the bottom line, but may not seriously impact quality levels at all.

Eliminating manufacturing steps improves the quality of the product if the quality level of existing steps is the same. If each step produces product within specification 99% of the time, eliminating one step improves the final product quality by eliminating the quality multiplier.
For example, a process of 4 steps at 99% quality levels ends up with 96% of the product meeting quality standards. A process with 3 steps at a 99% quality level for each step results in 97% of the product meeting quality standards.
Implementing lean manufacturing and eliminating one step will improve the end quality about 1%. However, lean manufacturing is aimed at eliminating waste of all types. Implementing lean manufacturing may do nothing to improve your product quality at all.

Watch Out #3: Lean manufacturing isn’t standard.

Leaner manufacturing does not garner the same attention as ISO and six sigma quality standards because there isn’t a formal lean standard. Implementing lean manufacturing processes can help an organization meet ISO 14000 environmental standards per government or contractual mandate. Lean manufacturing operations that improve product quality can help products meet ISO 9000 quality standards. However, implementing lean manufacturing does not earn an ISO certification.

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