For Manufacturers who Want Alternatives to Lean

posted on: Thursday March 2, 2017

plan-1725510_1280Not every manufacturer will benefit from Lean. Even when applied correctly, a method that works for a company like Toyota is not tailored to benefit every operation. Manufacturers producing low volume or custom-engineered products, for example, would not improve with a technique like Kanban. These kinds of companies have to look at improvement strategies a little differently.

Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM), for instance, is an alternative method to Lean designed for low-volume producers. It aims to eliminate dysfunctional variability (like machine breakdowns or rework) without compromising the strategic variability (something the company introduced to gain a competitive edge.) One of its four core concepts focuses on reducing lead time. This is one example of a model for improvement that is designed for high-variety manufacturers and the like.

When choosing a method of improvement that isn’t Lean, it’s helpful to look at the benefits of standardization. By analyzing what improvements you’re looking to accomplish, you can evaluate whether a strategy or model will be the right fit for you. Ask yourself if the method you’re considering will help you:

  1. Identify and Predict Problems. As you implement any new strategy, doing so should help you identify areas where you need improvement. Whether the method targets a specific metric or asks you to analyze your workflow, opportunities for improvement should be evident. Additionally, a uniform approach should make unexpected surprises immediately evident so that you can anticipate and manage the resulting problems.
  1. Make Performance Gains.  If there is a best practice or method known to work better than others, it should be the standard.  If standardizing your processes doesn’t result in improved performance, you’re wasting your time implementing and training something new.  Any standard rule should increase production, shorten lead time, save space, or improve something better than other practices you’ve used before.
  1. Optimize your Resources. If you share a resource across departments or facilities, that person should only have to use one approach, method, terminology, etc. to work with each group. Having to change any of that as he or she moves from one team to the next is extremely inefficient. Additionally, if you transfer resources, standardization eliminates the learning curve. Find protocols that fit all similar processes.
  1. Eliminate Extra and/or Duplicate Work. Does this method shorten a process? Reduce manpower? Eliminate trips back and forth? Condense workflow? You should be able to cut out unnecessary steps, and you should eliminate the need for two people to come up with different approaches to the same thing.

Remember that improvement is possible on all levels, including structural, operational, and procedural. None of these need to be completely restructured to yield performance gains, either. In some cases, you may simply choose to implement a more efficient tool or machine. For example, manual pushing and pulling can be replaced by a battery-powered tug, or a tug and cart system. These kinds of improvements are easy and immediate, and they return dramatic results. You can build a new process or protocol around equipment like this to eliminate other unnecessary processes, too. For information on power tugs and how they’re used to accelerate productivity in manufacturing, contact Load Mover, Inc.: 952-767-1720, or