Process Improvement: Choosing the Right Tools (Part 1 of 2)

Continuous process improvement results in better products or better value for the customer. Improvements can result in better service, reduced operating costs or reduced production time. Human nature desires to do better, jump higher and out-perform the competition. This requires constant study of the current processes, technological advances and current resources all with the goal of making process improvements

Lean process improvement principles are a systematic way of reviewing production to determine the most effective and efficient set of operating methods. The essence of Process Improvement is to close gaps in performance, identify problems that affect quality and eliminate activities that do not add value. Many different tools exist under the process improvement umbrella. Making the right choice for your company is a matter of necessity.

Cellular Flow Manufacturing is used to produce products one-at-a time instead of in large batches. Some products may take weeks to produce from start to finish. Materials are fed through the production line then moved to the next step only when all units have been completed. The entire group then moves on to the next step of the process

This production methodology causes excessive wait times and keeps excessive completed inventory on hand. Cellular Flow Manufacturing allows for one unit to be produced at a time meeting actual customer need. This is accomplished by rearranging production machinery into cells keeping the entire process in close proximity. With the new configuration each individual unit is run from start to finish. This configuration greatly decreases lead times and eliminates over production. This practice many not be feasible under certain circumstances when dealing with high cost equipment.

Poka-Yoke is a Japanese term that means “mistake-proofing”. This could be any mechanism in lean manufacturing that helps to avoid mistakes. The idea is to take over repetitive tasks that rely on memory or vigilance and guard against any lapses in focus.

  • The first type of poka-yoke stops the production process after an error has occurred until it is manually fixed. A sensing device usually announces when a production error occurs.

  • The second type gives a warning when an error occurs. The error is not prevented but stops the process when the error is caught.

Kanban Pull System replenishes parts as they are used. The whole system is driven by visual signals. The ‘pull” comes from customer demand. Items are not made unless there is a need. This process is mainly used with Just-in-Time production when orders are filled as they are received eliminating excess inventory. Work-in-progress is limited to avoid overloading the system.

Lean processes all have a common goal: produce better products more efficiently while eliminating waste. In Part 2, we will discuss Total Process Management, A3 Planning and Hosin Planning!

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