Lean Manufacturing and Low-Code: How to Eliminate Waste and Increase Efficiency

Written By: Peter Rifken
December 19, 2019
6 min read

The rapidly changing environment within manufacturing is forcing businesses to constantly deal with new challenges and complexities. In order to survive and succeed companies need to be able to find ways to increase efficiency and optimize workflow to provide the most value to customers.

However, companies that are struggling to become more proactive spend much of their time dealing with waste like defects in production, overproduction, and misused time that can lead to inefficient processes and increased costs.

Identifying tools and techniques to eliminate those kinds of waste is the main objective of implementing lean manufacturing processes. The benefits for companies that successfully implement lean processes extend beyond just eliminating waste and can include reduced costs, improved production, and improved employee morale.

It is all too common for companies to unsuccessfully implement lean into their organization. Failed implementations can occur for many reasons including a lack of understanding of lean, a fragmented approach, and resistance to change, among others.

Low-code platforms, which have become more prevalent within manufacturing companies as they move ahead in their digital transformation can help with the implementation process.

In order to stay competitive, increase profits and sustain in a changing business environment, implementing lean manufacturing processes must become a strategic priority.

More Than Just the Tools

For manufacturing companies struggling with waste, decreased production, and an increasingly competitive global workforce, there is a tried and true way to optimize workflow. Lean production emphasizes using a set of tools to identify and eliminate waste from manufacturing processes in order to increase efficiency.

The framework for lean manufacturing processes is derived from the Toyota Production System which was created by the Japanese automotive company in the 1950’s and which focuses on removing unevenness in workflows.

To jumpstart implementing lean processes, manufacturing companies can start with a simple set of tools and methodologies, like value stream mapping (VSM), that are quick to implement and are able to scale. Accomplishing small wins can snowball into large cultural shifts within an organization.

But it’s not just about the techniques. Lean is 95% culture and 5% tools, technology, infrastructure. It’s crucial that there is buy in from the top-down in order to ensure successful implementation.

A 2018 study that examined first-time implementations of lean processes in two small-to medium-sized enterprises (SME) found that the commitment of management is more important to success than the actual implementation. The study found that one of the critical factors in successful implementation was the way that lean was applied.

“Robust implementation requires an enterprise-wide management system that creates a culture that empowers employees to solve problems and implement regular improvements,” the study said.

Part of the implementation process is being able to identify gaps and waste within existing processes. Research conducted by the Lean Enterprise Research Centre, a research institute in Cardiff, Wales, about “60% of production activities in typical manufacturing operations are waste,” or add no value for the customer.

The most common types of waste I have observed while working with manufacturing companies are:

  • Energy, or better understanding plant assets like compressors, heaters and boilers which can be an enormous source of cost savings
  • Scrap, or material that has been tossed because of a defect or is overproduced
  • Time, or employees not working efficiently

Ultimately though, all waste leads to additional work that provides no value to the customer.

Reap Benefits with Lean Principles

While looking to implement lean processes within manufacturing there are five key lean principles that are often utilized to jumpstart the process.

According the Lean Enterprise Institute, the five principles are:

  • Identify value from the viewpoint of the customer
  • Identify the steps in the value stream, eliminating any that don’t create value
  • Develop value-creating steps that ensure smooth production
  • Establish pull so that customers are seeking out the product, rather than waiting for it, or pushing it to them
  • Continuously evaluate and assess upon these processes to continue to eliminate waste and improve

Building a continuous improvement culture in order to regularly examine processes and identify areas for further improvement is a crucial ongoing process because organizations are either improving continuously or becoming more disorganized.

Small, incremental changes, like Kaizen events or implementing a Kanban board, over the long term will only help to significantly improve processes and management. Implementing lean processes with a focus on continuous improvement can also help to determine the root cause of inefficiencies.

Successfully implementing lean processes can lead to multiple benefits beyond eliminating waste and optimizing workflow. Numerous studies over the last few decades have examined and highlighted benefits like: increased product quality; improved response to fluctuations in demand; and increased profits associated with improving key performance indicators (KPIs) like scrap eliminated per cycle and how long it takes to complete a specific task, among others.

There are also cultural benefits, like a sense of ownership over processes, increased productivity and engagement at the front lines.

Implementing Lean with Low-Code

As the digital transformation continues within manufacturing, companies are turning to low-code platforms as one way to identify and eliminate waste and improve quality.

Low-code platforms, like Quick Base, allow users to quickly build custom software solutions to address their companies’ unique processes without needing to code.

These platforms allow organizations to be more flexible and agile to respond to a constantly evolving industry in order to meet customer demand at a lower cost in a shorter amount of time.

Platforms like Quick Base play a part in helping manufacturing companies implement lean processes.

Automating key processes, centralizing data and aggregating insights via dashboards can help to reduce waste by saving time that would otherwise be spent transcribing information from paper, pencil, and spreadsheets. Simply put, a process that previously spanned 10 man-hours over three days might be reduced to two man-hours over a single afternoon.

Additionally, Quick Base allows you to track the impact of lean initiatives through features like defect tracking, inventory management, and people, skills and training management. It also helps companies in continuously improve by identifying the root cause of sources of waste and managing projects to implement the countermeasure.

Utilizing low-code platforms like Quick Base can not only help manufacturing companies identify and eliminate waste within their organization, but also continuously improve upon those lean processes to ensure they are providing the most value to employees and customers.

Written By: Peter Rifken

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