Improving manufacturing through lean management

8th February 2024
Harry Fowle

Electronic Specifier recently attended Southern Manufacturing & Electronics 2024, an event which showcased the very latest in electronics, manufacturing, and design. One of the key topics on the minds of many was how to get the most out of their manufacturing processes, to learn more Tim Scurlock, Director of ALC, spoke on how to break out of the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality and get the most from your manufacturing processes by utilising lean management.

Too many times has Scurlock seen companies adopt the “my way is the best way,” or the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality, or perhaps hiding behind the ‘regulatory barriers’ that are in place. And the worst part for him is that all of this is taking place whilst they continuously frustrate themselves with inefficient processes and wasteful resource management. So what can be done? Scurlock believes that lean management is the solution.

What is lean management?

Lean management in manufacturing is a systematic approach aimed at streamlining production processes by minimising waste without sacrificing productivity. It focuses on enhancing efficiency and quality by identifying and eliminating non-value-adding activities, thus allowing companies to deliver products that meet customer needs with fewer resources. Lean management principles, derived from the Toyota Production System, something that Scurlock is a strong advocate of, emphasise continuous improvement, respect for people, and the pursuit of perfection through a disciplined methodology that involves tools and techniques like Just-In-Time (JIT) production, Kanban systems, and 5S. This approach not only optimises operational workflows but also fosters a culture of teamwork and problem-solving, leading to higher employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

“To invoke these changes, a focus needs to be made on the various processes that underpin a manufacturing map, these are sales, manufacturing, information flow, equipment, materials, and of course people,” says Scurlock.

“This can only be done through standardising workflow,” he continued. Standardising workflow refers to the process of establishing consistent procedures and practices for tasks and operations within an organisation. This approach aims to ensure that all activities are performed in a uniform manner, improving efficiency, quality, and predictability across the board. By defining clear guidelines, steps, and criteria for work processes, standardising workflow minimises variability, reduces errors, and enhances productivity. It facilitates easier training and onboarding of new employees, enables better quality control, and supports continuous improvement efforts. Moreover, a standardised workflow allows for more effective monitoring, management, and optimisation of operations, leading to improved overall performance and customer satisfaction. “This creates a platform, a baseline, for improvement,” Scurlock explained.

Continuous improvement

Standardising a workflow is only the start, however, and works as a great foundation for the follow-up step, continuous improvement. “Continuous improvement based on the standard work is key,” says Scurlock. Now that you have the standardised workflow you can proceed to test and compare with the standard workflow to see if certain changes yield desirable outcomes. “Plan, do, check, and act,” is what Scurlock likes to refer to this as.

Continuous development is an evolutionary process that builds upon the foundation of a standardised workflow to foster ongoing improvement and innovation. This approach emphasises the importance of regularly reviewing and refining work processes, even after they have been standardised, to adapt to changing market demands, technological advancements, and internal organisational needs. By integrating continuous development with standardised workflows, organisations can maintain operational efficiency and quality while remaining agile and responsive. This synergy ensures that improvements are systematically identified, tested, and implemented in a controlled manner, leading to incremental enhancements that cumulatively have a significant impact on productivity, cost-effectiveness, and customer satisfaction.

Final thoughts

By challenging the status quo and adopting lean management principles, organisations can significantly enhance their operational efficiency, reduce waste, and increase customer satisfaction. Standardising workflow lays the groundwork for this transformation, ensuring consistency and reliability across all operations. However, the journey doesn't end there; continuous development built upon these standardised workflows is essential for adapting to the ever-changing market demands and technological advancements. Lean management, with its focus on continuous improvement and respect for people, not only optimises manufacturing processes but also cultivates a culture of innovation and teamwork.

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