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Best Principles for Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Nov 23, 2020 11:21:54 AM

Men during precision work on production line, horizontalThese days, organizations of all types embrace the concept of continuous improvement. Still, there's a reason that many of the most popular tools and techniques for improvement and waste reduction began in the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing is complicated. There are issues of materials management, complex equipment, specialized employee responsibilities, production deadlines, and many more.

More complicated processes and systems mean increased opportunity for error and inefficiency. Both can waste time and cost money, impacting the total profits for an organization.

Dedication to continuous improvement is an approach to cutting these inefficiencies, reducing waste, and enhancing processes. Continuous improvement in manufacturing focuses on increasing customer value, reducing waste, and optimizing factory operations. Further, the goal is to build a culture of improvement where workers notice and act on opportunities to improve their work and share ideas for innovation.

What are the Five Principles of Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing?

1. Value

The first step toward improvement in manufacturing is understanding what value the customer assigns to products and services. This is the basis for deciding what the customer will pay for them. By assessing the value, manufacturers can create the target price to calculate the cost to produce the products and services, setting the effort in motion for manufacturers to focus on eliminating waste, delivering the expected value, and eventually earning the best possible revenue outcomes.

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2. Value Stream

The value stream represents the sum total of the product's entire life-cycle, starting from the raw materials to the customer's use and final disposal of the product. Continuous improvement principles aim at eliminating as much waste as possible throughout the value stream. To achieve this, there must be a clear understanding of the value stream. Manufacturing processes are examined in a data-driven method to figure out the value-added and identify those steps, materials, features, and movements that do not add value. Each activity or process can be categorized as those that unambiguously add value, those that do not add value but are nonetheless necessary, and those that are unnecessary and don't add value. The latter are targeted for elimination.

3. Flow

The next principle of continuous improvement in manufacturing is understanding the flow of work, materials, and communication, which can help eliminate waste. When there is a block in the value stream at any point, waste becomes the inevitable by-product. This flow principle aims to create a value chain with zero interruption in the production process and ensures each activity is entirely in sync with every other.

4. Pull

The principle of pull works hand in hand with that of flow by ensuring that nothing is produced before it is needed, reducing work-in-process inventory, and achieving a synchronized flow. Instead of using the old-fashioned manufacturing approach of allocating workload based on a forecast and delivery schedule, the pull approach indicates nothing is made until the customer requests it. Operating under the principle of pull requires tight communication and constant cross-functional coordination.

5. Perfection

The ultimate goal of continuous improvement in manufacturing is perfection. While the goal is elusive, the relentless pursuit of perfection helps manufacturers continually reevaluate the best practice for every task or process. Step-by-step as improvements are targeted to address the root causes of quality problems and waste, manufacturing organizations move closer to the ideal world of zero defects, an uninterrupted value chain, satisfied customers, and maximized profits.

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With these principles in mind, manufacturers can take steps to build improvement work into the organization's very fabric. Many use a five-step improvement cycle to bring the principles to life.

1. Identify the Improvement Opportunity

The first step is to identify challenges, waste, or quality problems that require improvement. Ideally, it is frontline workers who will recognize and report these opportunities.

2. Analyze

The next step is to find the root cause of the problem. Continuous improvement is not about slapping Band-aids on issues, but rather it is about digging in to solve the problem at its source.

3. Act

After analysis, a plan to correct the root cause is developed and implemented.

4. Study

Once the solution is in place, it is essential to use data to confirm that the actions taken have achieved the desired result.

5. Standardize

If the action has been successful, it is essential to standardize the solution to ensure the improved level of performance is maintained.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement isn't easy (software can help), but doing so allows manufacturers to stay competitive, improve profitability, and engage employees. If you're looking for tools to help achieve this goal, KaiNexus can help.


Topics: Lean, Improvement Culture

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