To make a manufacturing process more efficient, a company must understand what lean is. To “go lean” means your workplace applies lean manufacturing philosophy and practices. Lean is an industrial practice where manufacturing facilities focus on waste reduction to create more value for the customer. There are several different lean techniques, allowing each organization to fit lean into its own distinct production process. Three of the most common lean techniques are 5S, kaizen and kanban.
The 5S system is an organizational method that stems from five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke. These words translate to sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain. They represent a five-step process to reduce waste and increase productivity and efficiency. The first step, sort, involves eliminating clutter and unnecessary items from the workspace. Next, workers must set in order by ensuring that there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. The shine step entails cleaning the workspace and regularly maintaining this state. Standardizing should be done to make all work processes consistent so any worker can step in and perform a job if necessary. The final step, sustain, involves maintaining and reinforcing the previous four steps.
Kaizen is a business practice that focuses on making continuous improvements. With kaizen, there is always room for improvement, and workers should constantly look to improve the workplace. This philosophy also emphasizes that each individual's ideas are important and that all employees should be involved in the process to better the company. An organization that practices kaizen welcomes and never criticizes suggestions for improvement at all levels. This helps to create an environment of mutual respect and open communication.
Kanban relies on visual signals to control inventory. A kanban card can be placed in a visible area to signal when inventory needs to be replenished. With this process, products are assembled only when there is demand from the consumer, which allows companies to reduce inventory and waste. The kanban method is highly responsive to customers because products can be manufactured by responding to customer needs instead of trying to predict their future needs.
Lean manufacturing has many advantages, such as higher productivity, improved customer service, lower lead times, increased employee morale and a safer work environment. Each of these contributes to the most significant benefit of lean manufacturing — increased profits.