Can you Kanban? If you answered, "not without my dancing shoes," it may be time for you to brush up on the principles of lean manufacturing. First, you must learn to talk the talk.
At the recent Executive Leadership Conference of the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, several speakers and a member of the panel addressed this topic (Kanban is a Japanese term meaning "signal," one of the primary tools of just-in-time manufacturing, that signals a cycle of replenishment for proudction and materials), a theme carried through from last fall's meeting. According to Bill Donohue, vp of Virginia's A.L. Philpott Manufacturing Extension Partnership, "Lean is a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste (non-value-added activities) through continuous improvement by flowing the product at the pull of the customer in pursuit of perfection." He went on to say that 95 percent of all leadtime is non-value-added, such as overproduction, waiting, transportation, defects and inventory. Value-added, on the other hand, is any activity that increases the market form or function of the product or service. These are things the customer is willing to pay for.
Any manufacturing function that involves both workers and machinery can benefit from a lean approach. Donohue suggests starting with value-stream mapping. First, follow the product's packaging production path from beginning to end, making a visual representation of every process. Next, find the waste. Here, it's best to involve the employees; you may be surprised to find that they are already aware of the bottlenecks in the system—wasted steps, wasted materials, downtime. To eliminate waste, next standardize the workflow. Operations should be carried out with all tasks organized in the best known sequence, and using the most effective combination of people, materials, methods and machinery.
A Kaizen event is helpful (Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning continuous improvement). Kaizen is any action whose output is intended to be an improvement to an existing process. A Kaizen Event gathers operators, managers and owners to examine the packaging process, map production, improve it and then solicit buy-in from all parties. While much of the improvement focuses on the workers, machinery is vital to Kaizen, too. Donohue suggests Total Productive Maintenance. TPM maximizes the productivity of equipment for its entire life cycle and will extend the useful life of the machinery. By practicing continuous maintenance on the machines, the operation's safety, quality, cost and output will improve. Downtime is unacceptable, and this includes changeover time, which Donohue defines as the time between the last good packaged product off the current run and the first good piece off the next run. Shortening changeover times goes a long way toward maximizing output.
Donohue recommends implementing a 5S program: Sort, Set in order (relocating items as needed), Shine (yes, that means clean), Standardize and Sustain. The last two functions ensure that the first three are adhered to diligently. At the fall meeting, PMMI's members participated in a hands-on exercise that demonstrated how even simple improvements in workflow—organizing materials, eliminating wasted steps, keeping workspaces tidy—impacts productivity and profitability. And who can argue with that?