Adopting Lean Manufacturing Principles Is Easier Than You Think

It’s shocking, but even diligent employees waste time if they have to search for the tools to do their job, or wade through a mess to find what they need.

If that scenario describes your business and you want to change, adopting the lean manufacturing principles that helped make Toyota and others models of efficiency may help.

“Most [people] would think it’s (lean) for high-production environments, but it’s not,” says John Belotti, mechanical engineer and lean systems coordinator at Magline Inc., a Standish, Michigan-based manufacturer of hand trucks, lifts, and ramps. “I would say that any time you’re eliminating waste in any process, you’re going to streamline manufacturing and reduce cost.”

He offers some cautions, though. Solicit employee buy-in from the start, and reassure workers the change isn’t a step toward layoffs. Also, lean gets a bad reputation when companies that incorporate it are on a downward financial spiral that’s not going to right itself by streamlining processes.

That said, Belotti offers advice to get started in lean manufacturing—in any industry.

Start with the 5 S’s

Sort out the area. Look at the tools in your immediate work space, and keep only those you use every day. If you don’t use a tool daily, store it in an easily accessible spot.

Set in order. Items used daily should be close at hand, and all employees should have the tools necessary for their jobs.

Standardize processes. A place for everything and everything in its place is the guideline. Use labels, outlines on pegboard, or another strategy to delineate where a tool belongs.

Shine. Keep things clean.

Sustain. Create a daily checklist for each employee to ensure his or her work area is sorted, orderly, standardized, and clean. Make an inspection list that managers can use weekly or monthly to ensure employees are living the first four S’s.

Ready for more? Belotti trained in lean at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center; other states offer similar help. He also recommends reading Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production and The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement.