Lean Manufacturing 101

Eric Working

“To be competitive, we have to look for every opportunity to improve efficiencies and productivity while increasing quality. Lean manufacturing principles have improved every aspect of our processes.” -Cynthia Fanning, GE Appliances

How do responsible companies reduce waste and cost? How do they increase quality and efficiency? How do they do what they do – better? For many highly successful organizations, the answer lies in Lean manufacturing. Though many clients do not know it, Lean manufacturing directly benefits them. To learn more about what Lean manufacturing means, how it benefits you, and which Lean philosophies help companies achieve maximum results with minimal waste, read on:

Introduction To The Lean Philosophy

Lean is a methodology and a set of tools to identify and remove sources of waste, or “non-valued added activities” in organizations. This, in turn, improves quality and reduces both production time and cost. The goal is continuous improvement; Lean Manufacturing eliminates unnecessary steps or processes if they do not contribute to overarching objectives.

While the term “Lean” was first coined in 1990 (The Machine that Changed the World by John Krafcik), its roots extended back to the old Model T assembly line. Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing by keeping standards high and streamlining processes so they “flowed” optimally.

Subsequent manufacturers adopted and improved upon Ford’s ideas. Taiichi Ohno, of Toyota, for instance, developed the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS overcomes the inflexibility that flawed Ford’s system. (After all, the Model T assembly line only produced Model Ts and unsold inventory drained profitability.) Ohno pioneered the Just In Time (JIT) methodology (among others) to increase efficiency, boost flexibility, and eliminate extraneous and costly inventory.

How Does A Lean Organization Benefit Consumers?

Lean thinking benefits elevator maintenance companies, designers, architects, and, by extension, building owners and end-users. How? Systems and processes are optimized to ensure only the highest-quality products are shipped – on time, on budget, to your specifications.

SnapCab products are made-to-order with reliable lead times. They’re manufactured and shipped just in time, along with everything needed to complete the job, so you stay on schedule. Materials include:

  • Detailed written instructions and videos.
  • Drill and driver bits.
  • All necessary fasteners.
  • Package of shims to ensure panels fit tightly against the walls.
  • Construction adhesive and double sided tape.
  • Cleaner, paper towels and a garbage bag for clean-up.

For additional speed and convenience, SnapCab labels their panels and thoroughly inspects them. Elevator mechanics don’t have to waste time looking for missing parts and pieces while the clock is ticking on the job.

By operating with a Lean mentality, SnapCab eliminates material and manpower waste – creating cost savings that can be passed on to the customer. With an emphasis on continuous improvements, they are always looking for ways to create even more value for elevator maintenance companies, specifiers, and the end user.

So how exactly does SnapCab incorporate Lean philosophies into every part of the business?

SnapCab’s Lean Journey

SnapCab’s owner Glenn Bostock has always focused on simplification and continuous improvement. In fact, that’s why he started the company: from his experience in elevator remodeling, Glenn knew the conventional method of remodeling interiors was needlessly complex, time-consuming, and wasteful.

He developed a system of interlocking panels that streamlined the entire process. Elevator Interiors Simplified. Which isn’t just a slogan, but really, a way of doing business. Glenn is an ardent proponent of Lean manufacturing, and its principles of continuous improvement, knowledge sharing, and waste elimination are infused throughout SnapCab’s culture.

6 Ways to Incorporate Lean Ideas?

Eliminate waste, reduce cost, improve efficiency, increase quality: these principles guide Lean organizations. A few key Lean concepts that drive the work at SnapCab are:

1. 5S: Make An Efficient Workplace The Status Quo

Seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

5S, a Japanese methodology, helps reduce waste and optimize productivity by maintaining an orderly, streamlined workspace. There are five key pillars:

  • Sort (Seiri): remove unnecessary items from the workplace.
  • Set in order (Seiton): create efficient, clearly labeled storage methods.
  • Shine (Seiso): after de-cluttering, thoroughly clean the workspace. This makes it easier to spot potential problems before they can worsen and hinder production.
  • Standardize (Seiketsu): integrate Sort, Set in Order, and Shine into everyday work. Create a consistent approach for tasks and processes.
  • Sustain (Shitsuke): make the 5S a daily habit. It replaces the status quo and becomes the “way we do things around here.”

When employees apply the 5S steps to their workspace, they can meet a number of critical goals, including reducing waste and inventory, cutting downtime, reducing the square footage needed for their work, ensuring they have the proper tools for their tasks neatly organized, and improving final output.

2. Total Productive Maintenance (TPM): Avoid Breakdowns With Proactive Maintenance

TPM philosophy states everyone within an organization is responsible for proactive equipment maintenance to reduce downtime. People at all levels should work to improve the efficiency of their workplace. For instance, spotting and fixing minor problems, such as corrosion on a piece of equipment, can prevent a much costlier failure in the future.

Workers often perceive maintenance as a “non-profit activity” because it doesn’t help turn a profit. But TPM challenges that assumption and proves that making small investments in improving equipment can yield significant returns – and reduce unnecessary costs.

3. Standard Work: Implement Best Practices To Drive Improvement

Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement, and this philosophy hinges on standardizing work. Documenting current best practices and keeping them updated provides employees with the best, most efficient processes for given tasks. These repeatable processes provide a new baseline on which organizational leaders can guide further improvements. Kaizen is a never-ending cycle.

4. Kanban: Streamline Workflows With Visual Cues

Henry Ford’s assembly line followed a “push” system: they churned out cars regardless of customer demand. Toyota recognized the waste and implemented a “pull” system. They were driven by customer demand, which reduces unsold inventory. Kanban is a Lean tool that facilitates Just In Time delivery and allows companies to match their inventory with actual demand.

Kanbans are visual cues: employees have cards that signal steps in their processes so they can visualize the flow of work. Through these cards, they can communicate effectively, telling coworkers what tasks to complete and when. This, again, improves efficiency and reduces downtime.

SnapCab relies on Kanbans to re-order stock materials and supplies. This ensures they have the right amount at each station and never run out – or run over. Too much product is as costly as too little.

5. Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI): Use Data To Optimize The Supply Chain

VMI allows manufacturers to optimize their supply chain. Typically, when distributors need a product, they place an order with a manufacturer. The distributor controls the size of the order, as well as the timing. With VMI, the manufacturer receives data on the distributor’s sales and inventory levels and maintains an optimal inventory plan. It’s the manufacturer, not the distributor, which creates the order. VMI helps create a Lean, demand-driven supply chain.

6. Value Stream Mapping:

A value stream map is essentially a flowchart that maps the manufacturing process. It helps organizational leaders to identify areas of waste, reduce production time, and make continuous improvements. As with many Lean methods, value stream mapping is highly visual. This makes it easier to follow and analyze how products get from Point A to customers’ hands, as well as which steps are non-value added and can be safely eliminated.

The Added Benefit Of Lean: A Fun and Engaging Workplace

While Lean thinking helps organizations operate efficiently, it also helps eliminate fear. SnapCab rewards their employees for mistakes and experimenting. If they’re not afraid of making mistakes, they’re empowered to make improvements and solve problems creatively. If they’re not afraid to point out waste or problems, they’re part of the solution.

SnapCab encourages their employees to give feedback – and they’re expected to help the company evolve, improve, and find new ways of working. Tim Isleib, a SnapCab team leader, says, “Our No Fear company culture gives us power, it seems like it’s not all up to the office, now we have a say in what’s going on.”

And they’re using this voice to ensure customers receive high-quality products that meet their design and functional goals. A No Fear company culture and Lean philosophies have helped land SnapCab on Inc magazines 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America list yet again. More importantly, it allows them to provide high-quality, high-value products and services that elevator maintenance companies, architects, designers, and property owners can rely on to get the job done right.

Ask the expert! Contact Joe Danko here.