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quality improvement in manufacturing (10)

Lean principles.

Lean principles and philosophies are the frameworks that help us effectively structure and continuously improve the human elements of our manufacturing and frontline processes. 

What are Lean Principles?

Lean principles and philosophies are the frameworks that help us effectively structure and continuously improve the human elements of the manufacturing process - and beyond. They are methodologies that help frontline teams guide action, track progress, and improve incrementally. They can be applied to almost any element of the manufacturing value chain, and they have relevant applications across the scope of frontline work. 

You can have the world’s most advanced machinery, the best digital tools, and the most ambitious goals - but if you don’t have a strategy to guide your human workforce to learn and improve, you’ll be stuck with waste, lower product quality, and high costs.

Some innovators take it a step further and leverage a strategy known as circular manufacturing to reduce waste and costs. This is the process of recycling goods and raw materials back into your own value chain, and can help make manufacturing more sustainable - from both an environmental and financial perspective.


Reduce human errors and waste.

Effective lean continuous improvement in manufacturing aims to identify the subtle and far-reaching waste factors that creep into your lean manufacturing processes and cost you in the long run. By implementing strategies to reduce this waste, you’re upping product quality (think: fewer defects and recalls) while simultaneously reducing costs (think: less raw material and greater efficiency).

Lower costs.

The financial impact of waste on the production floor can be staggering. Billions of dollars are at stake for companies who are slow to reduce wasteful practices and who aren’t optimizing their processes and procedures with better tools and methodologies.

Empower excellence.

But operational excellence and sustainable success don’t stem from a single behavior or process. Rather, it’s essential to build a lasting culture that rewards and celebrates this mindset of continuous improvement and high-quality products.

This ensures that your experts - the frontline teams that perform the work everyday - have an equal stake in a fantastic outcome (great products for you and a rewarding work environment for them. This is also a key component to democratizing and crowdsourcing improvements to operational knowledge.

An ecosystem of Lean philosophies.

Lean often refers to a specific production method - originating in mid-20th century Japan - used by top companies around the world. But there are many schools of thought that aim to accomplish similar goals. The philosophies on this page all focus on creating behavior that elevates efficiency, continuous improvement, training, and effective people management. 

In the following pages, we’ll cover:

→ Lean
→ 5S
→ Kaizen

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What is Lean?

Lean manufacturing is the continuous improvement methodology of choice for experts around the world. It’s a people-focused practice that focuses on reducing production and response times within your operations. These practices create a framework that empasizes eliminating activities that do not add value for the customer, and focuses on reducing cycle, flow, and throughput times. While originally developed for production - Lean methodology has been adapted to help us improve everything from marketing to customer service.


The 5 Pillars of Lean.

The Lean philosophy in manufacturing is built upon five key pillars that drive efficiency, reduce waste, and improve overall productivity. 


1. Value.

Clearly define what value means for the customer. This means understanding the end result that is most important to them, and aligning your production processes to deliver this value. By identifying and focusing on value-added activities, manufacturers can thus eliminate what Lean calls “non-value-added steps” throughout processes and procedures. 


2. Value Stream.

Map and analyze the ‘value stream’ for each product you produce. This usually means identifying all the steps and processes involved in delivering the product: from raw materials, to distribution to the end-customer, and everything in-between. By visualizing this value stream and eliminating any bottlenecks or inefficiencies, manufacturers can better manage and optimize the flow of materials, information, and activities from start to finish.


3. Flow.

Make value flow without interruptions. Flow involves optimizing the movement of both products and information throughout the production system. By eliminating delays, excess inventory, and unnecessary transportation, manufacturers can achieve a smooth and continuous flow of work that actively reduces lead times and increases responsiveness throughout a value chain.


4. Pull.

Let the customer ‘pull’ value instead of having it ‘pushed’ on them. Instead of pushing products based on forecasts or assumptions, manufacturers adopt a pull-based approach, where production is driven by actual customer demand. By aligning production levels with customer needs, companies can avoid overproduction, minimize inventory costs, and improve customer satisfaction.


5. Perfection.

Pursue perfection. True perfection is, of course, impossible. But this pillar of Lean represents the mindset of striving for improvement and excellence in all aspects of your processes. By fostering a culture of continuous improvement, empowering and democratizing employee involvement, and embracing innovation, manufacturers create the building blocks for predictable and sustainable success.

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What is 5S?

5S is a simple and effective technique - and it’s often the first Lean improvement that a company will commit to in their journey to increased productivity and error reduction. The adaptability and holistic nature of its core principles means that 5S is often used in conjunction with other Lean philosophies to achieve widespread improvements.

You can read about each pillar in greater detail here.


The pillars of 5S.

1. Sort → Remove clutter and create a work environment free from extraneous items.

2. Set in Order → Organize necessary materials and prepare the workspace for efficiency.

3. Shine → Clean the workspace and equipment.

4. Standardize → Define a consistent and repeatable approach to achieve the first 3 steps.

5. Sustain → Make these principles habits, not just rules.


5S standards


5S in practice.

Many companies use 5S principles to standardize and uphold the cleanliness and organizational practices that keep a production line or work environment running smoothly and error-free. Once SOPs and practices have been put in place, teams can track incremental progress in their way-of-working and identify potential improvements.


The Sixth Pillar - Safety.

Safety is one of the most important components in any manufacturing or production environment. Because of this, companies around the world practice what they call ‘6S’ and add a final point to the original 5: (S)afety.


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What is TPM?

TPM is a Lean philosophy that originated in Japan during the mid-20th century. It focuses on giving individual employees ownership of machine maintenance to increase productivity and reduce downtime. This approach, combined with digital and data-driven tools, has made TPM an effective Lean strategy well into the 21st century.

The Goals of TPM in Manufacturing.

TPM manufacturing aims to achieve "perfect production" by eliminating breakdowns, small stops, and defects. This might seem like an impossible task - but teams use it as an ideal to work towards through daily practice, increased employee responsibility, training, and continuous improvement.

TPM manufacturing

Built on 5S.

TPM manufacturing often begins with the 5S methodology (see our section above, which ensures a clean and well-organized work environment. The concepts behind 5S give a practical framework for operators to manage materials and workspaces effectively, laying the groundwork for TPM to be successful.

The 8 Pillars of TPM.

TPM manufacturing is based on eight core values applied to operators and production lines. You can read about each of these values in detail here.

1. Autonomous maintenance Place the initiative for maintenance on the individual employee.

2. Planned maintenance Use data to predict downtime and failure, and plan accordingly.

3. Quality management Discover the reasons for failure and defects during production.

4. Focused improvement Collaborate to improve processes.

5. Early equipment management Influence the design process with learnings from production.

6. Education and training Train regularly to upskill and prevent errors.

7. Safety, health, and environment Set goals and align procedures to hit a goal of "zero accidents."

8. Administrative and office tasks Improve back-office administration to support productivity goals at the frontline.

TPM 4.0 for a Digital World.

TPM has been effective since the 1970s, but it needs to evolve to stay relevant in the digital age. The shop floor of the future relies on data-driven continuous improvements and tech-savvy workers. TPM, with its focus on individual accountability and continuous improvement, is well-suited to leverage digital tools and meet the demands of Industry 4.0.

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What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a Japanese term and business philosophy that means “change for the better.” It’s a strategy that involves everyone in an organization to contribute to a shared goal: achieving continuous improvement. Kaizen originated in post-world war II Japan and was first implemented in Toyota factories to avoid manufacturing errors. Today, it’s become synonymous with lean manufacturing.  


The pillars of Kaizen.

Kaizen is all about making small incremental improvements. Its implementation can vary depending on the organization. Broadly speaking, Kaizen is based on 5 core principles. 

1. Know your customer → put the customer experience first. 

2. Zero waste → seek to eliminate waste and use fewer resources. 

3. Spend time on the shop floor → Kaizen promotes gemba walks to understand where customer value gets created. 

4. Be transparent → make performance measurable and progress visible. 

5. Empower people → set goals and give people the tools they need to reach them. 

Together, these principles sustain Kaizen as a practice. To support these pillars, you also need a solid foundation based on standards. 

kaizen standards


How standard work facilitates Kaizen.

Standardization is critical in Kaizen. The best way to implement standardization in your operations is to create standard operating procedures (SOPs). SOPs are standard guidelines your team needs to follow to complete a given process. Your team needs to implement standards in order to achieve consistency in their work. But SOPs are also crucial to achieve continuous improvement: they set the baseline for further optimization. 

The benefits of SOPs.

Reduce errors and downtime in the shop floor: when your team has SOPs and standard work instructions that are easy to follow, they will know how to best operate equipment and perform tasks. This, in turn, reduces errors and prevents downtime.

Maintain consistency and quality control: there is no quality control without consistency and no consistency without standards. These standards, shared throughout a company, ensure that the task at hand is done right every time it’s performed. This means predictable results and consistent product quality.

Improve productivity and performance: clear procedures make your team confident and efficient. Better SOPs help get the job done right, and improve the confidence of frontline teams. 

But it’s more than productivity - collecting feedback to improve SOPs is just as important as implementing them. 


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Crowdsourcing knowledge to drive Kaizen.

Companies who are successful at driving Kaizen know that it’s important to empower people. Your frontline employees know what happens on the shop floor and in the field and can suggest the best improvements to optimize your processes. Use platforms that allow you to crowdsource knowledge and start documenting best practices from across your organization. 

Why crowdsource knowledge? 

It helps you motivate employees → Engaged employees are less likely to leave your company and drive productivity in their daily work.

Share best practices across sites → Optimizations that work in one plant can be more easily implemented in others when your operational knowledge is documented. 

Ensure knowledge is not lost when someone leaves the team → This is especially relevant in manufacturing, an industry that’s seeing many employees retire and is currently affected by high rates of employee churn. 

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Onboarding team members to drive Kaizen adoption.

A solid introduction to your Kaizen practice will also help you get employees engaged and up-to-speed quickly. And what better way to do this than through good onboarding. Companies that have a standard onboarding process and user friendly work instructions can improve speed to competency up to 30%. 

Checklist for Kaizen onboarding.

  • Provide access to knowledge from the start: build employee autonomy by providing the relevant knowledge from day one. 

  • Give your employees easy to use tools: work instructions should be device-agnostic. They should be easy to access from a mobile device on the shop floor.

  • Motivate and empower: companies with motivated employees achieve far greater things. Train your team with motivation in mind and give them tools that allow them to submit feedback easily. 

Read more about using SOPs to implement Kaizen in your organization. 

Learn more about frontline 'how-to' knowledge.

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