5 Lean Manufacturing Tools To Implement in Your Workflow

Abby Baumann Jan 18, 2022
lean manufacturing tools

There were an estimated 213 million companies in the world in 2020. Despite the high number spanning hundreds of industries, these businesses have one thing in common — they strive to find the perfect balance between efficiency and reducing costs. To do this, many manufacturers turn to lean manufacturing.

Lean manufacturing is a method first developed as a part of the Toyota Production System (TPS) to help eliminate inefficiency by reducing waste in their operations. Lean manufacturing focuses on 5 key principles: identifying value, mapping the value stream, creating flow, establishing pull, and seeking continuous improvement. 

In order to apply these principles to your manufacturing operations, you’ll need the right lean manufacturing tools. These tools are essential for helping you discover ways to streamline your business and problem solve accordingly, with the ultimate goal of saving resources, simplifying operations, and improving quality.

Below, we’ll cover five types of tools you can use within your lean management strategy and the benefits of each.

1. Visual Management Tools

What Are Visual Management Tools?

Visual management tools allow management and front-line workers to have greater insight into how equipment and processes work within their company’s operations. In essence, visual management tools let equipment on the shop floor communicate with other machines and machine operators more efficiently. These tools highlight problems, such as when a machine is down, and relay this information to the appropriate workers.

This real-time glance into processes allows manufacturers to take action quickly, which can help avoid any potential delays or bottlenecks. Visual management tools can also warn workers that problems are about to occur, which means they’re instantly alerted to an issue and how to best remedy it. This creates a culture of awareness and discipline, equipping your team to pursue efficiency.

Benefits of Visual Management Tools

Visual management tools reduce communication errors while quickly relaying information to workers and management. They enhance communication between the machines and people for a more streamlined project management strategy. This all adds up to a system that cuts back on mistakes and identifies irregularities faster.

Visual Management Tools to Consider

  • Color Coding: Color coding tools use colors to signify different machine operations and conditions. Color coding standards and policies allow for consistent communication at a glance, which makes it simpler for your team to know the appropriate action to take.

  • Andon Communication: Andon is a quality notification and alert system. When a problem occurs on the shop floor, a notification can be sent to management, maintenance, or other teams about the issue. Andon communication systems empower operators to get help as issues occur, so they can be addressed as soon as possible.

  • Floor Line Marking and Signage: Floor lines and markings are visual indicators that show how your workers, tools, and materials flow between processes on a work floor. Color coding, markings, and signage are used to indicate worker pathways, vehicle lanes, and intersections. These tools promote a safe, organized working environment.

2. Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)

What is TPM?

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) works to improve reliability and lower maintenance costs by using equipment, machines, and operator experience to focus on predictive, preventative, and autonomous maintenance strategies. It’s a combination of using sensors, condition monitoring, machine data, and predictive analysis to monitor systems for possible risks and issue alerts.

This method was first developed after World War II by Japanese manufacturing consultant Seiichi Nakajima as he aimed to combine predictive/preventative maintenance with total quality control (TQC). TQC later became known as Total Quality Management (TQM), which was later adapted and modified into TPM.

Benefits of TPM

TPM lets manufacturers address issues before they happen by providing tools and resources to perform planned maintenance, preventative maintenance, and other maintenance programs. Keeping equipment in the proper condition greatly reduces the chance of unexpected breakdowns and failures.

As a result, TPM cuts down on unplanned maintenance, and reduces unexpected downtimes. It also lowers manufacturing costs while maintaining safety standards.

TPM Tools to Consider

Some of the tools used for TPM are as follows:

  • Training guides
  • Inspection cards
  • TPM tags
  • TPM forms

There are also several methodologies that support TPM initiatives. Two commonly used methods are 5S and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

The 5S methodology focuses on workplace efficiency through optimal organization. With materials, machines, and workers all placed in the right areas, processes run more smoothly and safely. As the name suggests, the 5S foundation focuses on five principles: sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain.

  • Sort: Remove items that are not needed for the current production processes.
  • Straighten: Place items that are used daily in locations where they can be easily stored and accessed.
  • Shine: Clean equipment and spaces of all dirt and grime.
  • Standardize: Develop strategies and procedures to help management and staff reinforce the 5S steps every day.
  • Sustain: Turn 5S into a workplace culture in order to maintain positive results.

The other methodology is Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). This composite measurement evaluates productive time within performance, availability, and quality of equipment processes. It assigns each benchmark a numerical value, so management and workers can pursue equipment improvement opportunities.

3. Just-in-Time (JIT)

What is JIT?

Just-in-time manufacturing (JIT) is a production method where a part isn’t built until a customer places an order for it. As an “on-demand” method of making products, once an order comes in, the item is immediately made and shipped to the customer.

JIT was adopted in the 1970s by the Toyota company as an inventory management strategy. This methodology reduces storage waste in operations, as there is no need to store batch sizes of pre-made products. This way, product doesn’t get stuck on shelves awaiting fluctuating customer demand.

JIT is implemented in the manufacturing process by using real-time analytics to review and evaluate production processes, manpower, lead times, and capabilities. It offers visibility in work performance and capacity, so manufacturers can optimize production schedules.

Benefits of JIT

JIT allows inventory control by reducing the amount of products created when there are no present orders. It lowers inventory storage of overhead carrying costs. Companies spend less money buying excess materials as they only obtain what is needed to fulfill the product orders.

Example of JIT Working

One company that has effectively used JIT in manufacturing processes is Harley-Davidson. The American motorcycle company experienced overproduction of motorcycle products that expanded their operations and led to poorer quality items.

They implemented a pull system as part of their JIT strategies where inventory is massively reduced at all levels of the production chain. Then, improvements were made to the way that parts moved through each work area. In this manner, the company’s process improvement strategies focused on quality versus quantity, and shifted to fill orders as they came in.

4. Bottleneck Analysis

What is Bottleneck Analysis?

Bottleneck analysis is used in lean manufacturing to identify potential slowdowns in manufacturing processes. This tool helps identify the root cause of a bottleneck, so manufacturers can easily work to address the issue. 

Benefits of Bottleneck Analysis

Bottleneck analysis benefits manufacturers by increasing visibility into a manufacturing process. It eliminates waste by highlighting the slow and inefficient steps so that improvements can be made to streamline the production line.

Bottleneck Analysis Tools to Consider

The Theory of Constraints (TOC) is one commonly used method for bottleneck analysis. The TOC methodology is designed to identify the constraint within the process area to guarantee that takt time is met. Takt time, often just referred to as takt, is the rate at which you need to produce a product to meet the customer demand for that product.

TOC focuses on identifying the constraint, testing how the constraint is impacting processes, and reviewing if other changes need to be made to overcome the constraint. Then, users improve the process to minimize or eliminate the constraint for the continuous flow of product through each stage.

5. Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)

What is PDCA?

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) is an iterative lean manufacturing tool that focuses on a continuous improvement cycle by proposing a change in the manufacturing process.

This four-stage approach starts with the Plan stage. You collect the necessary metrics and data to identify and understand the problem, as well as perform root cause analysis. In the Do stage, you develop a solution and simultaneously create tests to perform measurements. In the Check stage, you review and study the results to measure your solution’s effectiveness. Lastly, in the Act stage, you document the results—informing management and shareholders of possible process changes—and develop recommendations regarding future PDCA actions.

Benefits of PDCA

PDCA offers an infrastructure framework to discover opportunities for improvement. It’s a simple method that helps manufacturers make changes proactively and solve problems continuously. This results in operations improvements, as well as the development of standardized work strategies.

The PDCA methodology is often used with kaizen, a Japanese word that combines two concepts: kai (improvement) and zen (good). In lean manufacturing, the goal of kaizen is to pursue continuous improvement of productivity, product quality, and safety.

Example of PDCA

PDCA implementation isn’t only restricted to manufacturing industries. Service companies and educational organizations have benefitted from using PDCA methods.

In 2001, the Pearl River School District used a PDCA cycle to further understand their work processes. By using PDCA, the district was able to further define their strategic planning and enhance their curriculum design through the use of various assessments. Staff was able to set goals while also providing increased support services to students. Classroom instruction and teaching methods were then standardized to meet the needs of all students.

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Say Goodbye to Production Surprises with Amper

While there’s a range of lean manufacturing tools you can leverage, they all have the universal goal of maximizing efficiency. You can tailor these tools to your operations to perform analyses and reveal actionable steps in the short and long term—and Amper can help.

Amper’s factory operating system, which includes important lean manufacturing tools like andon communication, machine monitoring, and down-to-the-minute analytics, helps you streamline your operations with ease. To learn more, contact us today.

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