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Lean Operations

When we hear the word 'lean', we often think of it in terms of manufacturing. The term & ideology were began in the early 90's and were first used in Toyota plants. It was rooted in the effort to reduce waste, minimize latency, and increase productivity holistically. However, this concept has recently been adapted to be applicable to all of an organization's operational departments. Essentially, lean operations is a concept developed to increase the efficiency of departments within manufacturing companies. It is the continual process to increase the amount of valid data & utility produced per dollar invested.

The execution of this procedure entails a comprehensive review of the department's current situation, followed by a series of adjustments to address inefficiencies one at a time. Every additional step is justified and planned out before any changes are made. The "success and repeat" method is used to gain the confidence and buy in of all team members; though all lean efforts always start from top management and moves down to the base workforce.

Now lets take a look at what we at Mainspring Solutions defines as the top 'Eight Deadly Wastes' that lean operations can help mitigate by using the simple acronym DOWNTIME:

Defective Outputs- Poor quality control/standards, weak documentation, missing processes

Ove-Production- Just-in-case production, unawareness of customer needs

Waiting- Unbalanced workloads, long setup times, poor communication

Not Utilizing Talent- Assigning staff to wrong tasks, lack of teamwork, poor management

Transportation- Poor facility layout, excessive steps in processes, improper systems

Inventory Excess- Overproduction, unreliable suppliers, poor monitoring systems

Motion Waste- Bad process design/control, lack of standards, isolated/siloed operations

Excess Processing- Excessive reports, duplicated data, human error

We can see that many of these wastes are what we typically associate with lean manufacturing initiatives, though they can be additionally applied to all facets of operations. Creating processes and infrastructure that supports lean manufacturing should be the focus of organizational leaders moving into the future.

Lean operations can largely be applied to an organization's engineering department. Aside from lean engineering's assistance in reducing waste and increasing productivity, we must understand that engineering does in fact drive costs. It is estimated that 80% of a product's total cost is determined by the engineering design. This cost includes: number of parts/components, assembly technique, materials, software, design complexity, processes, etc.

Lean engineers can utilize a large toolbox to help them in their endeavors. Mainspring Solutions does plenty of consulting on the following tools and how investing in them can help drive down engineering costs and create a streamlined process flow: Production simulation softwares, product lifecycle management software, variability reduction, dimensional & interface management, design for manufacturing/assembly, and integrated digital tools that reduce wastes of handoffs and waiting.

There are plenty of justifications to implementation of lean operational initiatives immediately. For instance: projects that add value can be justified by the amount of value added to the customer. For instance, if a change in the process allows engineering to cut the lead time of estimates in half, which in turn allows their customer sales to close 25% more business then the Value of the gained business is used to justify the process change.

To conclude, lean operations is a fairly low-risk process that can be used to enhance the overall competitiveness and profitability of an organization. Though the processes is not necessarily easy and involves rigorous employee buy-in, a change in company culture to a more lean-thinking environment can pay off a great deal.

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