When people think about removing waste, they start with wasted resources that they can touch and see; leftover scraps, machines left running, and energy-high processing techniques. In doing so they miss one of the expensive costs: Time. If a part of the process is waiting, it is an anchor dragging down the efficiency of your whole organization. Whether it is an idle fifteen minutes while a machine reboots or a component stored for weeks, these costs are pure waste and can be eliminated. Today we are going to examine the three things that should never be left waiting.
This waste is easiest to identify, when you see your employees standing around with nothing to do, there is a problem with your workflow. In the past, managers would try and “keep them busy” by having them overproduce products. This builds up inventories, which sap resources (storage, managing of the pieces, etc.) and are one of the seven deadly wastes to be avoided. Instead, task the workers with rearranging the workflow to avoid such a bottleneck. Do you need to split the production crew into two smaller teams with two smaller machines? Do you need to retrain some of your workers for another task that needs assistance? Getting employee buy-in on these sort of improvement activities is absolutely essential to eliminating the wasted time (see our article about employee buy-in here). By putting the employees to work on fixing the cause of the slowdown, you can prevent such wait times in the future and give employees a sense of investment in their own improvement.
An essential part of Lean Manufacturing is arranging your factory layout so the pieces flow together, from raw materials to final product. In the old mass production model, a large machine would crank out huge batches of product, which would then have to be stored and slowly retrieved as they trickled through the remaining processes. However, with Lean Manufacturing, you reduce the size of your batches so that there is never any waiting time for the product. It flows through each process as steadily as the workers who are laboring on it. By eliminating the need to store these pieces in progress, you save money and space while drastically reducing your total manufacturing time.
With globalization becoming the norm, customers today can choose from a wide array of possible products, services and companies. A Lean Manufacturer will always stand out for its fast turnaround time. By remaining flexible to customer needs and reducing batch size, a Lean Manufacturer can produce the specific product requested far faster than a traditional mass production factory. This increases customer satisfaction, sales efforts and protects the factory from fluctuations in the market. A customer can request a product and receive it with as little wait time as possible.
Lean is a process of constant improvement. When eliminating wasted time from your processes, think about these three things that should never be kept waiting. This allows you to focus on all the parts of production that could become slowdowns and tackle them from the point of view of your employee, your product and your customer.