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Some of my ‘Favorite’ Lean Manufacturing Tools

April 28, 2011


Was asked recently, What were some of my ‘favorite’ Lean Manufacturing Tools in my Toolbox, and Why?  I thought, Wow, what a great question!  There are literally 100’s to choose from, but what are some of them that always rise to the top.  Here’s the short list:

  • ‘5S’ your Area: The 5 S’s can be loosely translated as Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. A place for everything, and everything in its place. Remove the unneeded, unwanted, or not used items for they have no place on the shop floor.  The slang for this (among contractors looking for overtime) is Save Some Sh*t for Saturday, and Sunday.
  • 5 Whys: If you ask “why” 5 times, you’ll get to the actual root cause of the problem.  “We didn’t make the schedule” Why? “We had a line stop” Why? “The engine blew up” Why? “The bearing hadn’t been lubricated” Why? “We didn’t know it needed grease” Why? “We have no preventative maintenance schedule.”  Then, once the root cause is determined, fix that problem forever, and resist the temptation to put a “band-aid” fix on it.
  • 80% Solution for only 20% of the Cost: In many cases, Pareto’s law (from our Project Management studies) applies; such as, can we attain 80% of the results with only 20% of the expense?  Typically, full funding never comes around, or comes in stages, thus we must be creative in our problem solving approaches for problems that never seem to go away.
  • Bench Marking: The idea is to compare your performance against what other companies are doing. Some companies will spend lots of time, collecting data on what other companies do. Before spending this time, money, and effort, it is critical that you ask this simple question: “What would we do differently, if we had this data?”
  • ‘Best Practices’ Knowledge Capture: This is a little bit tricky, and here’s why.  Capturing knowledge is great!  It shows that you have a keen interest in improving.  But, capturing it, without implementing it, is frankly… well, useless.  If it is good, then study it, map it, implement it, refine it, and make it so.
  • Bottleneck Fixes: The machine, function, or staff that limits / hinders the timely output of the entire factory. The idea is to focus all efforts on improving the output of the bottleneck.
  • Common Sense:  Reduce the effort, Fix the problems that arise, and Repeat!  Find someone that’s done the step many, many times. Document what he does, then get an apprentice to follow the “recipe” for a good product, and have the seasoned mechanic do the auditing to perfect the process.
  • Go, No-Go Gauges: One simple form of failsafe tooling is a set of gauges that measure a part for its’ upper and lower dimensional tolerance. If the “go” gauge will fit over the part, the part is not oversized. If the “no-go” gauge does not fit over the part is not undersized.
  • ‘Just In Time’ Engineering: More than just a phrase, but a way of life.  Don’t work on things just because they are easy.  Do things because effort “A” needs to be done before effort “B.”
  • KISS: “Keep It Simple, Sh*thead.” (Marine Corps version).  Maybe you have heard it as Keep It Simple, Stupid?  Most people believe that KISS makes sense. Yet, so many companies have a culture of “Keep It Complicated and Confusing.” Over test. Over document. Over approvals. Management, and workers alike, must challenge these unreasonable roadblocks to fix the process.
  • Value Added, & Value Stream MappingThink of it in terms where you, as the customer, would be willing to pay for such a product or service. Most production steps are value adding. Non-value adding steps are things that do not alter form, fit, or function. Examples of non-value adding activities include receiving, transaction processing, transportation, clean-up, product movement throughout the cycle, storage, etc.  Then, the process can be mapped of all activities required to move a product through the production cycle. The focus is then on identifying and removing/reducing the non-value adding activities.
Which ones would you add, and why?
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