This operation model was first used in a manufacturing set up. The initial person to use the word ‘lean’ was called Krafick (Geraghty1). Several words are used to mean lean principles. These include; “lean manufacturing, Toyota production system and lean production” (Kilpatrick,1). Although Japan is believed to be the starting place, for lean principles, Ford Henry had been using the techniques as early as the 19th century (Kilpatrick, 1). According to Ford, the price of a commodity is directly affected by the production costs (Kilpatrick, 1). He observes that the longer the production cycle and the distance the commodity moves, the higher the production cost. Meaning that in order to reduce cost of production, the two factors ought to be controlled as much as possible.
Generally, from Lean’s associational network, lean is used to refer to a production method that identifies and eliminates losses via effective handling of production activities right from the production centre to the target market (Kilpatrick, 1). Note that this principle applies to the general organizational set up. Despite the fact that particular lean elements can be used, optimum results are only possible if the principle is applied across the entire functions of the organization.
In this principle, losses or wastes are used to mean activities that do not add value to a manufacturing organization. These are majorly referred to as ‘eight wastes’. These include; waiting, transport excessive inventories, underutilized human resources, aimless movements, excessive production, inefficient processing and production beyond market demand (Kilpatrick 1-2). Therefore, organizational performance can only be enhanced if these wastes are reduced to the minimum possible levels.
Necessity of lean production system
Lean production system provides cautionary measures against underperformances in manufacturing, production or architectural organizations. In order to facilitate increase in performance, it is important to provide suitable environments that are sensitive not only to the market needs but the entire organizational activities leading to or affecting production processes ( Geraghty 2-3). In such cases, understanding organization’s objectives and plans provides ample times for implementation of lean principles. Mostly, organizations go through different operational challenges. Both large and small organizations need to maintain their progress no matter the limitations affecting them.
For small organizations, limitations vary from capital stabilization, small profit margins, market competition with established firms, human resource confidence, product standards or quality aspects, infrastructural deficiency, underproduction among others. These challenges can easily cause destabilization of small organizations. However, with application of lean principles, effective control can be realized. For instance, in terms of human resource, organizations applying lean principles would ensure the use of appropriate number of people with required skills. It is easy to manage a small number of personnel, whose value in organizational production is significant, through effective remuneration and provision of support services that act as motivation tools (Melton 663). So that any person within the organization whose value is below per depending on the production capacity of the firm can be replaced or caused to adjust the performance index (for example, through training).
In addition, if the organization’s products faces stiff competition, lean principle on reduction of production time and product distance can be of advantage as the product would reach the target market before the competing product or products. Alternatively, decreased time and product distance directly causes a decrease in the cost of production. As a result, the firm’s product would reach the target market with low price tags thereby increasing product demand. A practical example is the US firm specialized in health care products (Kilpatric 4).
Implementing Lean Tools
Implementation of lean principles requires both intensive and extensive co-operation from the firm’s stakeholders. Synergy from workers, leaders and shareholders is an important necessity for adoption of these principles. Usually, organizations follow particular mode of operation in production chains that differ from other organization (Vidal 2003). This is known as organizational culture. Lean principles are organizational cultural practices aimed at facilitating effectiveness in organizational performances (Bosch Rexroth Corporation1). Therefore, in order to benefit from these principles, manufacturing firms must be ready and willing to forego initial organizational cultures that, in one way or another, are not in tandem with lean culture. Elements or tools of this culture are as discussed below;
In lean principle, stability factor is enhanced by maintainability of manufacturing operations. The lean service configuration demands ease in service provision with minimum downtime. In order to realize this, several components of maintainability are provided by use of a modulated structural framework system. These include availability of manual backup system, availability of the operating manual on the machine, standardization of several operational components, utilization of common tools and operations fixtures, unavailability of finished work on system components besides ensuring presence of minimum possible spare parts (Bosch Rexroth Corporation 10). The main objective of these basics is reduction of manufacturing time.
If machines are configured within the shortest possible period, it is possible to realize high profit margins as market demands target would be met. Moreover, reduction in non-value spare parts calls for efficiency in operations carried out by respective machines attendees, although the (lean) framing system ensures that availability of the required parts for repair works are available (Bosch Rexroth Corporation 10). Equally important, lean stability enhances use of small spare parts inventory. By ensuring unavailability of unaccomplished tasks on lean structure, operations are carried out as per the manufacturing schedule thereby facilitating effective time utilization. Stability factor in manufacturing processes is due to effective productive maintenance, which demands combined corporation from knowledge, skills and total operators’ involvement, equipment suppliers, maintenance engineers besides support persons (Kilpatrick, 2).
Lean stability principle focuses on two major objectives. Performance optimization and improved product quality (Vidal 199-200). The former objective is characterized by breakdown elimination, reduction in planned and unplanned downtime, better utilization besides increased rate of production (or throughput) (Kilpatrick, 2). With achievement of the two objectives, it is possible for a manufacturing firm to realize significant reduction in the cost of production, better equipment maintenance (therefore long life) besides reduction in the overall cost of maintaining manufacturing hardware (Kilpatrick, 2).
Quality is a vital aspect in any manufacturing or production firm. High demands for goods produced would only depend on whether standardized specifications have been achieved in the course of manufacturing. Lean quality approach demands a sequential mode of carrying out manufacturing activities. Each manufactured machine is assigned a specific period of time which is not interfered with by engaging in other manufacturing duties. After manufacturing a given part, the operator is required to visually approve that the part has been produced as per the required standard specifications (Bosch Rexroth Corporation 9). This means that by the time the entire machine is produced, its overall standard is ensured. This approach to manufacturing ensures that maximum attention is given to particular manufactured tool or machine. As such, quality issues are minimized as much as possible (Bosch Rexroth Corporation 9).
In addition, lean quality ensures easy replacement or change of fixture and gages tests thereby facilitating quick reconfigurations and machines changeover. This condition eliminates worker’s reluctance as manufacturing operations are carried out in a continuous manner (Bosch Rexroth Corporation 9). Generally, lean quality demands change of organizational attitude in respect to product quality by adopting a total quality management approach applicable to all firm’s operations and recognition of all strengths of the personnel involved (Kilpatrick 2). However, as much as lean quality principle is adopted in a manufacturing firm, not all standard aspects are controlled. Using machines for manufacturing purposes presents all manner of challenges.
In case of machine defects or malfunctioning, product quality is likely to be affected (Bosch Rexroth Corporation 9). Therefore, the principle’s structural framing system provides quick shifts within shortest period as enhanced by bolt-together construction feature. Another standardization measure in lean principles is called 5S principle. This is also known as organization of work place. In this approach, work environment ought to be well planned such that each manufacturing activity is carried out with very little or no inhibitive factors. For example, a manufacturing environment in which spare parts are scattered all over the place or workers are not assigned with specific duties is deemed to cause enormous organizational losses as a lot of time would be required in movements, machine commissioning, repair and during shifts from one operational activity to the other. Equally important, such environment would highly affect the product quality thus reducing the product’s market appeal. According to (Kilpatrick 2), this principle applies across all functions of the manufacturing chain and offer immediate returns to investments.
In any manufacturing or production firm, accessibility is an important factor that necessitates productiveness (Rosenthal 1-2). Just-in time principle or quick change-over principle enables reduction in the amount of time when shifting from one production process to another. Reducing changeover time is not aimed at increasing production capacity rather, allowing frequent changeovers so as to increase flexibility in production operations (Kilpatrick 2). Lean aluminum framing system provides easy accessibility of all components required in production activities. Each of the lean cell surfaces can be used for mounting purposes thereby provided different mounting alternatives in the course of production. Therefore, possibility for optimum positioning of shelves, bins fixtures and tools is assured. In addition, the cell’s T-slot region can necessitate quick changing of the Pneumatic components in cases where clearance room is critically needed (Kilpatrick 3).
Fig 1: T-Slot application in milling
Due to lean just-time principle, quick components addition in any workstation is a possible occurrence. This facilitates smooth production exercise with minimal unnecessary delays. The benefits of this principle include optimum protection (or ergonomic) design, reduced downtime besides easy manufacturing service providence. In order to implement this principle, several assessment guidelines should be considered. For instance, use of simple hand tools for removal of all guards in the cell, tools clearance for easy usage, reduction in maintenance interference at work stations besides ensuring proper positioning of the cell’s controls and fixtures with protective gears (Bosch Rexroth Corporation 9).
Jidoka is a term used to mean “automation” (Rosenthal 1) and (Jidoka para.1). The origin of this exercise was meant to increase manufacturing services delivery by enabling quick detection of faults within production machines and equipments. Usually, with immediate detection, the operator is in a better position to stop the machine, investigate the fault, carry out corrective measure then provide a countering approach to such an occurrence so that it does not repeat once the process is restarted (Rosenthal 1). Fault detection and machine stoppage can be carried out mechanically or automatically. For example, Poka-yoke tools can be used for fault detection and machine stoppage.
In addition, most of the production mechanisms used in Toyota’s production systems is designed to achieve these roles. In mechanical means, production time factor is an important fault detector. For instance, if a production process is to end after 30 minutes, an extension of this period before the assigned task is complete is a surety of the fact that the machine used has incurred some mechanical deficiency. However, this approach is ineffective because, corrective action can only be effected after production process. Meaning that if machine fault has a direct link to product quality, standard aspect of the manufactured good would have been interfered with. As such, lean principle on accumulation of non-value wastes would be overlooked. Moreover, several other efficiency factors would be affected, resulting to overall firm’s underperformance.
Another detecting tool applied in industries (such as Toyota) is Kanban. This process is used in maintaining flow material from the origin to the intended place of use (Kilpatrick 2). With this technique, all inventories made ought to have a Kanban attachment. Otherwise, overproduction or operational misappropriation might have happened. In addition, if the manufacturing system has had a smooth operation then, all of a sudden, there happens to be a reduction in the production estimates, there is a likelihood of an alteration in the production chain (Rosenthal1).It is important to note that all activities contained in lean principles are interlinked. For instance, in order to effectively implement Jidoka, detection of an abnormality should be followed up quickly with a stoppage action so as to prevent further destruction of both the manufacturing machines and the product quality. Stoppage action is a mental shift from what was happening to a refocused attention on what might have occurred (Rosenthal 1). Another important element of this action (as proposed by Rosenthal) is transfer of the information on abnormality occurrence to other related manufacturing personnel whose output operation might be affected by the same abnormality.
Therefore, Jidoka principle enables a manufacturing worker to attend to different machines within the same period of time but with little extra effort (Jidoka para.1).
In order to adopt lean principles, active participation is needed from different departments and the overall leadership of the firm. Lean principles are action oriented and therefore tools for workers’ empowerment (Vidal 198-199). Thus, proper benefit from them demands a sense of commitment and clear understanding to what should be done and the reason as to why it should be done (Rosenthal 1).
For instance, time management is everybody’s responsibility, whether a leader or support employee, time mismanagement directly affects manufacturing potential of a manufacturing industry (Melton 662-663). However, if elements of time misuse are not identified and made accessible to all persons within a manufacturing plant, chances are high that quite a number of them would not be aware that they are active contributors to the firm’s operational inefficiency (Vidal 199). It is with this view that lean principles propose the use of operation manuals specifying manufacturing activity and the standard respective target expected.
Goals and planning
In order to increase efficiency in manufacturing production, several approaches can be adopted ranging from additional capital injection, product diversity and training of human resource personnel. However, choice of an approach for organizational change is dependent on leadership decisions. Even though, it is important to incorporate a series of well-combined tools or practices that have the potential to cause the desired change (Geraghty 1).
Utilization of Lean principles in organizational goals facilitates adoption of a system that identifies potentials in different areas of production by enhancing organizational flexibility and work place re-ordering (Bosch Rexroth Corporation 2). Therefore, in order to benefit from these principles, an effective adaptation strategy is crucial. Organizations willing to adopt this mode of approach in operational efficiency needs to conduct intensive pre-adaptation training in order to create a sense of mind shift from what is commonly practiced (Kilpatrick 4). This should be included in the initial organizational plans so that all individuals are made aware of the possible working system.
The best time for inclusion of lean principles is during organizational framework preparation. At this time, specific production goals proposed ought to capture lean directions on target, periods, operational guidelines and possible motivational factors. It is important to note that lean principles follow particular pattern where all manufacturing activities are intertwined such that inefficiency at one point is equally transferred to the entire production chain (Melton 665). Thence, organizational plans based on these principles need to follow suit (Kilpatrick 4). Otherwise, several shortcomings would be encountered. For instance, an organization can spent a lot of time training its employees on the new operational principles and fail to concentrate on whether the taught aspects are practically applied. In other cases, firms can implement lean principles in an incorrect sequence or in a selective manner (Kilpatrick 4-5).
Generally, goals based on lean principles should aim at achieving two main objectives; total change from inefficiency to productivity and improvement of the working environment from being time waster to effective time utility (Vidal 202).
Implementing lean culture
As already observed, synergy from workers, leaders and shareholders is an important necessity for adoption of lean principles. Usually, organizations follow particular mode of operation in production chain that differ from other organization (Vidal 2003). This is referred to as organizational culture. Lean principles are organizational cultural practices aimed at facilitating effectiveness in organizational performances (Bosch Rexroth Corporation 1)
Therefore, in order to benefit from these principles; firms must be ready and willing to forego initial organizational cultures which, in one way or another, are not in tandem with lean culture (fig.2). This calls for an intensive learning programme on the new mode of organizational operations, frequent assessment exercises and provision of correctional measures in areas of imperfection (Kilpatrick 4).
Fig. 2 Lean Culture
Lean principles are effective tools for improving operations in manufacturing industries. These principles are based on five major sequential thought patterns. These are specificity of value by product, identification of value stream per product, ensuring uninterrupted value flow, pulling value from manufacturing processes besides focusing to perfection (Geraghty 3). Organization adopting lean thinking approaches stands better place in achieving success in their manufacturing processes.
Bosch Rexroth Corporation. Lean Manufacturing: Principles, Tools and Methods. 2009; 1-16.
Feld, William M. Lean manufacturing: tools, techniques, and how to use them. CRC Press, 2002.
Jerry Kilpatrick. Lean Principles. Utah Manufacturing Extension Partnership. 2013; 1-5.
John Geraghty. Applying Lean Principles to Production Scheduling. 2003; 1-7.
Mark Rosenthal.Lean Directions. The e-newsletter of Lea Manufacturing.2002; 1-2.
Melton, Trish. “The benefits of lean manufacturing: what lean thinking has to offer the process industries.” Chemical Engineering Research and Design 83.6 (2005): 662-673.
Vidal, Matt. “Manufacturing empowerment?‘Employee involvement’in the labour process after Fordism.” Socio-economic review 5.2 (2007