U.S. manufacturing and technology is what made our nation a great global power. Unfortunately, our global rank in manufacturing has been eroded by foreign competition, especially in the last 20 years. U.S. companies (large and especially small) who implement lean manufacturing practices in the U.S are now showing that we have the ability to turn the tide and become more competitive internationally. The auto industry is a prime example.
Toyota developed and implemented their version of lean manufacturing, known as TPS (Toyota Production System), between 1948 and 1975. Toyota’s quality got better as they continuously improved with TPS. Ultimately, Toyota became the world’s top auto seller in the 1st quarter of 2007, displacing GM. We could see that foreign autos were getting better and U.S. manufacturers were trying. But, it wasn’t enough. Now that we all own a piece of the U.S. auto industry, major changes are taking place. U.S. auto manufacturers are implementing lean practices in earnest and are starting to make a come-back. Here in Nevada, small and large companies are making dramatic improvements through lean implementation. Their improved quality and output are resulting in significant bottom line increases and improving their export competitiveness. Ultimately, more Nevada jobs will result.
Lean manufacturing is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. In other words, it encourages removal of non-value activities in the processes. It sounds simple enough, but many companies who thought they were doing all the right things have been quite surprised when the tools of lean manufacturing are actually applied to their operation.
There are many tools available for businesses trying to implement lean practices. Some of the most popular tools are value stream mapping (VSM), an overall production process map showing flow; quick changeover which reduces set up times; 5S, or sort, set-in-order, shine, standardize and sustain; Kaizen which is Japanese for continuous improvement; total productive maintenance (TPM); cellular / production flow; overall equipment effectiveness (OEE); Takt time, which is the time a product goes through each step in the process and line balance.
Some of these seem relatively intuitive, while others may not be. Each process provides specific guidelines and focuses in order to optimize each step and phase of a production process. For example, many lean projects typically start with a VSM that shows the current production process starting from raw material to a finished product. It’s a great starting point to evaluate the current state and identify areas where use of the other lean tools will make significant improvements.
Suppose we identify an area that could benefit from a Lean 5S project. Sort is all about organizing where the process distinguishes needed items from unnecessary items. Items not currently needed for work are removed. Set-in-order organizes a work area for optimal efficiency with clear labeling and easy worker access. Shine is obviously all about thoroughly cleaning the work area. Standardize is all about developing a plan to maintain the previously implemented steps. Sustain involves workers in planning how to execute the plan with clearly designated tasks completed on a regular basis. When going through this process there are specific detailed checklists along with examples for each that help make implementation of each “S” clear with a variety of options to optimize the process. In addition, shop-floor folks empowered with implementing the above activities in their work area take more pride in their work, leading to greater satisfaction and higher productivity.
The success of leaner practices is starting to spread from manufacturing to other organizations as well. Lean Office and Lean Warehouse are new informational offerings that are becoming particularly popular as operations budgets are being scrutinized. One attendee at a recent day-long Lean Office seminar here in Nevada implemented what she had learned and literally saved her company over $43,000 annually.
In the words of the well known W. Edwards Deming, “No one has to change. Survival is optional.” With a change to lean implementation, U.S. manufacturing will not only survive in this competitive global climate, but will grow our economy and ultimately create higher paying jobs.