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Lean manufacturing: It really works

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Operations Excellence by Sepp Gmeiner
Sepp Gmeiner is a partner with Lignum Consulting. For feedback, questions and/or suggestions please email
Lean manufacturing doesn’t work for us! Our company is completely unique, and we do things differently!”
We have heard these and other denials many times. I appreciate these statements and often understand why factory owners and managers think this way, however, I am convinced that these statements are wrong.
In an environment where logic prevails, should we not all come to the same conclusions? 
If fact-based decisions are made and logic is applied different conclusions are only possible if the parties do not have the same facts on hand. One knows something the other doesn’t know. To close this knowledge 
gap, we need to learn and to communicate.
If you believe lean manufacturing does not work for you and does not apply to you, then you must learn more about it. Lean manufacturing is not a list of solutions. If it were, the naysayers might be right, because many solutions which work in some companies will not work in your company.
The core of lean manufacturing thinking is that everything can 
be improved.
There is only one question for which I don’t have an answer: How do you tell a person, who is not listening, to listen?
For those who believe that their operations can be improved there is hope. This does not mean they have to adopt everything based on what they hear. If they are listening and get an understanding of the essence, and adopt some ideas, then they will be further ahead.
Willing to learn and willing to adapt is important. There are different reasons for changes. You change because you are forced to by peers, customers or superiors, or are working in an environment which is looking to change and adopts changes willingly. Are you being pushed or are you pulling the change?
“Change for the better!” It is not the text book definition of lean manufacturing, but it is the essence of lean.

Everything else is just methodology:
•7 deadly wastes: Categories and methodology to identify improvements. This is based on the principle that anything that deviates from perfect is added waste.
•5S: A roadmap on how to organize the workplace and to keep the factory clean. Some extend this to 6s, and others have a narrower approach and call it 3s. It all drives the same objective.
•Morning meetings: A structured approach to foster and maintain a culture change, with a focus on employee participation.
•Kaizen meetings: A structured problem-solving improvement method, focusing on a single issue by involving the employees. A continuous improvement process for incremental improvements.
•S.M.E.D.: A structured approach to drastically reduce the set-up and change-over time on production equipment.
•Kaikaku: A focused problem-solving method for radical and big-step improvements combining the efforts of employees and external subject matter specialists.

There are many more standardized, systemized improvement methods, like poka-yoke (fool-proofing), chalk circle (watch & observe), visual management, value stream mapping, one-piece-flow, and many others.
As with a real toolbox, before you use a tool, you should know what you want to build and what processes you are going to apply. Do you need a saw or a chisel?
Not everyone knows how to work with different tools.
You and your team must not underestimate the need for training and skills development. This can be classroom teaching or training-on-the-job to start lean (pilot) projects.
The most important step is to get started.

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