Skinny jeans, 100-calorie snacks, smart cars – everyone is focused on smaller and leaner. So why not manufacturing? Research has shown that almost all activities in manufacturing fail to add value to a product. Nielsen Research reports that a minute of downtime can cost a manufacturer more than $20,000! A MINUTE! Success lies in efficiencies. It’s about being lean.
Lean principles have been with us for a while in quality and manufacturing. You’re probably familiar with Six Sigma, TQM, Kaizan, etc. Lean is about getting the right things in the right place at the right time and always looking for continuous improvement. It can apply to processes throughout the value chain.
It’s simple to see why the focus is on lean. Our current economy is unstable. Mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, increases in the cost of doing business and on resources makes a focus on doing more with less while maintaining high quality products a must. It sounds so simple, just like if you want to lose weight, eat less, right? How many go on the “crash” or “fad” diet to achieve the desired results? The focus needs to be on the big, long-term, big picture — continuous process improvement, not metrics and projects.
Re-engineering processes will allow you to get rid of all the waste and inefficiency in your systems. Lean, simple and intuitive procedures and robust process architecture can result in quick navigation, each to use and focus on problem solving, not navigating the maze. Implementing a lean program requires that you meet all applicable regulatory requirements, have an effective Quality Management System, know your products (specifications, batch records, etc.), identify and monitor your predictable processes, consider risk management, and measure the results in terms of cycle time, complaints, recalls, etc.
So what can go wrong? Way too much! First of all, over-documentation without understanding the whole system can obstruct the whole process. Adding resources without understanding whether the existing resources are being utilized correctly can also be a pitfall. If you make the system dependent on people, it won’t survive long-term. If you’re always being reactive instead of preventive and think technology will be the magic wand that solves it all, you will never achieve lean.
Enter Automation. The benefits of automation include data improvement, with automated systems and reports, and less reliance on memory and experts, and reduced human error. It also can create reproducible data and information so trends are easily evaluated. With real time data, reports can be generated when needed and knowledge can be shared more quickly. It also allows for accountability from across multiple locations.
Automation can also improve processes, by reducing process cycle time through automated workflows, and increase productivity through easier collaboration of automated notifications and discussion threads. Automation makes it possible to handle multi-tasks, create standardization and enforcement from policies not perception or interpretation, and eliminates guessing who owns what across departments.
For success, focus on the fundamentals:
- Learn to associate efficiency with effectiveness
- Foster a culture of business excellence, quality and productivity into fabric of the organization
- Empower an effective workforce with the right skills, knowledge and decision-making capabilities
- Deploy capability to measure performance and calculate the value through the “right” metrics
- Leverage technology automation to enable effectiveness, efficiency, and closed-loop processes that complement your overall investments
- Finally, understand what controls can be put in place to sustain the gain
Going lean is solving the problem, not addressing the symptoms. Match the right skill sets to do it right the first time. The benefits of lean systems are an efficient use of resources, rapid cycles, higher quality at a lower cost, greater flexibility and sustainable processes. Remember, less is more!