Lean is a ``buzz'' term used in all types of manufacturing environments, generally meaning the removal of waste from an operation so what is left has value.
There are numerous ways to approach the adaptation of a lean system. One method is to map a production line's value stream, or show graphically the processes of an operation, apply lean guidelines and create a ``future state'' with a leaner, more efficient environment.
Gene Burk, project manager with Duggan & Associates Inc. in West Warwick, R.I., talked about lean principles and value stream mapping during a presentation at the International Rubber Molding Conference, held April 27-28 in Cleveland.
More companies have felt the pressure to ``go lean'' for a variety of reasons, Burk said. These include increasing profitability, cash flow production velocity and inventory turns; decreasing working capital; and gaining market share, he said. Perhaps most importantly, customers are demanding it.
A key for adapting a lean strategy is getting employees involved, Burk said. Every employee must realize the company isn't in business to make product, but to make money, he said. And they must be able to recognize waste and strive to eliminate it, because it adds cost and time and gives an advantage to competitors.
Similarly, employees need to understand the value of an operation and how it relates to the customer, see the flow of value through a series of processes, solve problems interrupting the flow of value and continuously improve that flow, Burk said.
Value stream mapping involves drawing the material and information flows from the ``point they go in to the point they go out,'' he said. In other words, from the time a customer gives an order until the product leaves the plant, the company needs to track what is happening, including all the processes, orders, cycle and changeover times, and production and shipping schedules.
To get the best, most accurate information, managers need to ``walk the flow,'' by getting actual data to process, Burk said. They should talk to operators and find out how long things take and how often operations go down, he said. And, they should do themselves a favor and use a pencil.
Using lean guidelines and principles, the company can then identify what areas can be improved by eliminating wasteful steps. Burk suggests developing a plan supporting the organization's business objectives, breaking down the operations within the future state into ``loops''-repeating processes-making a value stream schedule and relating the future state map to the company's layout.
A true lean environment is one of continuous improvement, and there are several ways to foster that attitude, Burk said. These include measuring value stream improvements and rewarding them, walking the value stream as was done during the mapping process at regular increments, giving employees ``brag- ging rights'' on their improvements, rewarding ``excellent failures'' and asking the right questions.
One of the plusses of value stream mapping is it can go beyond a manufacturing environment as well. It can work in customer service and engineering departments, and Burk has seen successful adaptations in insurance and hospital environments.
There are several benefits a leaner organization will see, including reduced lead times, costs, required labor, utilized space, inventory and part/product defects, he said. Customer responsiveness likely will rise, and capacity may as well, potentially saving money if a company can put off buying an extra machine, he said.
Increased employee satisfaction is a nice perk, too, Berk said. ``I've seen people producing more, they're happy, they're less tired,'' he said. ``That's because you've eliminated the things that made their jobs more difficult.''