Colorado Manufacturers Embrace 'Lean Thinking'
In an age when customers expect low prices, high quality, unlimited variety and instant response, the basic tenets of traditional manufacturing are being challenged. In addition, globalization, new high-speed technologies and environmental concerns are putting additional pressures on manufacturers.
In this new environment, many companies still rely on traditional mass production methods, producing large lots based on forecast, with batches pushed from process to process. This approach often causes excess inventory, too much movement and waiting, wasted resources in plant and equipment, and a frustrated work force, all of which result in inflated costs.
Today, a different way of thinking is gaining wide acceptance, in Colorado and elsewhere, as an alternative approach to manufacturing. "Lean thinking" and principles associated with it are helping manufacturers keep pace with changing business conditions. Forward thinking manufacturers recognize that the longer materials are in the manufacturing process, the greater the ultimate cost. The objective of lean manufacturing is to streamline the flow of material throughout the value stream. The "value stream" is defined as any process that adds value to the product, or the delivery and service of that product, for which the customer is willing to pay.
Lean manufacturing philosophies help provide increased flexibility and responsiveness to changing customer demands. The goal is to respond to actual customer demand rather than producing to a forecast. Through systematic improvements in such areas as plant layout, workplace organization, quality, process flow, standardized work, inventory systems, and maintenance, manufacturers are recognizing immediate benefits through reduced costs and increased profits.
For example, on manufacturer in the Denver area wants to sell their product to the automotive market, which demands low prices and fast delivery from their suppliers. By applying lean-related principles and value stream mapping techniques to their operation, they identified and are implementing reductions in the set-up times for some of their machines. With this and other changes, they can reduce their production lead times by almost 80 percent.
One thing to consider about lean manufacturing; small improvements equal small benefits, while big improvements lead to larger and more long lasting benefits. Lean should not be approached as a collection of best practices from which manufacturers can pick and choose to solve their problems. It is an integrated philosophy; a way of conceptualizing processes from raw materials to finished goods, from design concept to customer satisfaction. These elements involve owners, management, and workers alike. It is possible to see small improvements in discrete areas, but the power of lean manufacturing comes from looking at the whole enterprise and beyond to suppliers and customers.
Another Colorado manufacturing company was motivated to apply lean principles to their business because of two changes in their operation, the consolidation of a sister plant into their facility and the introduction of a new product line. Both changes were putting pressure on them to free space within their facility. The creation of cells and other lean improvements will reduce the floor space they currently require while decreasing their lead and processing times on an existing product line by more than 50 percent.
These companies realize they will need to continuously improve to excel in their markets. The lean journey requires unyielding leadership, participation from every level within an organization, and a willingness to change dramatically. The process is not quick and easy but it is increasingly necessary in today's mercurial business environment. Is your company ready?
Guest Author: Aleta Sherman, is marketing director for the Mid-America Manufacturing Center (MAMTC-Colorado), a consulting group that works with small and medium sized manufacturing companies. MAMTC offers cost effective training sessions on lean manufacturing processes, including on-site programs tailored to a company's specific situation. This year alone, over 250 people from manufacturing have attended MAMTC-Colorado's Lean Seminars. Remaining Lean seminars in 2000 include:
-Basics of Lean Manufacturing-- November 8
-How to Design & Implement Cellular Flow Manufacturing--
-The Fundamentals of Set-up Reduction--December 8
-Implementing a Pull/Kanban Material System to Streamline Work Flow--December 18
[For more information about MAMTC services call Aleta Sherman at 303.499.9081]
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