Lean Manufacturing

Thanks to Kirk Miltimore, our Directer of Operations, for writing the following post about Lean manufacturing principles.

Western Shield is continuing its journey of Lean / Six Sigma. We have learned of tools like Jidoka, kaizen, andon, kanban, SMED, visual management, 6S, and 5 Whys. We could fill up this page and more with a list of lean tools, but is it the size of our lean toolbox that really counts? Not really. Truthfully, it’s not even the quality of the tools that makes a real difference.

The difference between companies that succeed at sustained lean implementation and those that don’t is the level of thinking driven by using Lean rules and principles. How we think determines our behaviors and no tool can fix that.

For example, ask yourself ‘what’s the purpose of 6S’? If you said, “to keep things clean and neat,” then you have a good example of how a tool can be misused without the right thought process. If 6S is implemented throughout a factory to “clean it up” without understanding that the principle behind it is to spot problems instantly, it becomes nothing more than a housekeeping exercise and will fail as a sustainable tool. To truly understand 6S, you must internalize the ability to immediately identify problems to enable quick responses.

Look at this tool through the lens of Lean rules and principles. There are four lean rules adapted from Bowen and Spears’ “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System” (Harvard Business Review, Nov. 1999), which guide improvement and implementation.

The Four Rules

  1. Structure every activity
  2. Clearly connect every customer/supplier (Internal & External)
  3. Specify and simplify every flow
  4. Improve through experimentation at the lowest level possible towards the ideal state

We can read about and understand the tools of lean in just about any quality management book. You can delegate the application and implementation to just about anyone: engineer, hourly workers, Lean facilitators and the like. But you cannot succeed without internalizing the rules and principles of Lean; using that thinking to guide not just the implementation, but daily decision making, problem-solving and management.

Because there are so many visible examples, you might think the difference is in what you see. What people sometimes fail to ask is why all those ideas were created in the first place. This is where Lean thinking comes into play. Lean is not just about what you see; Lean is about how we think.