Learning to Recognize Waste for Lean Process Improvement

    The Wall Street Journal called the Discovery Channel series How it’s Made "TV’s Quietest Hit,” and it’s no wonder. For those who have never walked a manufacturing floor, a behind-the-scenes look at the production of everything from exotic cars and computer parts to baseball bats and chewing gum is both incredulous and intriguing.  If you’ve taken part in the manufacturing process, you likely have similar appreciation, but you realize that workflow isn’t always as pretty as it's made out to be on screen. The concept of Lean Process Improvement has made its way into nearly every manufacturer’s mind or strategy session; it's pretty straightforward: make processes better and faster by cutting out what’s wasteful. Whether you are on the manufacturing floor or in an office environment, recognizing what qualifies as waste is key.

    Luckily, someone else got the ball rolling. Begin by checking your processes against these 7 Categories of Waste as defined by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS):

    1. Overproduction - Making more than you need to, before you need it
    2. Waiting – Having to wait on a person, process or part for another process to begin
    3. Transportation – Moving a product unnecessarily while you are making it
    4. Inappropriate Processing  – Producing something with equipment that is more expensive than the process calls requires
    5. Excessive Inventory – Having too much on hand
    6. Unnecessary Motion – Having to go or move further than necessary to perform a job
    7. Defects – Having to stop and deal with products when things go wrong

    Of course, the key to addressing all these improvement concerns is leveraging similarly progressing technology, such as software that allows critical process-related documents to be accessed from anywhere on the manufacturing floor, instead of having to search through paper resources that can get lost, soiled or become outdated.

    For example, when a maintenance electrician is sent to troubleshoot or repair a machine’s hydraulic system, he can quickly refer to specifications and diagrams either brought with him on his mobile device or waiting at the machine’s location. If there’s a needed part, he can order it right then instead of waiting to get back to his own desktop. If work orders and purchases have to be approved before the job can be done, those too can all be processed online without having to interrupt another meeting or knock on someone’s door for a signature.

    Technologies that integrate every working environment associated with the manufacturing process (the back-office, the manufacturing floor, the parts supplier, shipping and receiving etc.) are also being quickly adopted to address nearly all of these seven wastes in some way.

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    Virtual data and visual models allow plant engineers to leverage remote diagnostics for faster, more efficient troubleshooting. A birds-eye view of multiple processes, workflows and financials can also be attained using specialized software, allowing decisions to be made quickly and more confidently. Plant managers can interface with every manufacturing station on the floor without having to take a step, simply because they have shared digital data capabilities.

    Identifying waste in any step of the production process boils down to recognizing when you are overspending either in time or resources. Even businesses outside the realm of manufacturing can benefit by lean process improvement technologies. The steps taken to a copy machine and back... the messages left when calls go unanswered... the time spent waiting for a signature outside a closed door meeting... These are all examples of wastes that are being solved by intuitive technologies.

    Whether you are a service provider helping two clients close a loan on their first house or a hotdog manufacturer in a How It’s Made segment, you can bet everyone is watching to see how well the job gets done.

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