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What Is Continuous Improvement With Lean Systems?

By AMREP | Posted on February 02, 2024

This Image Depicts Continuous Improvement With Lean Systems

Continuous improvement and Lean systems are related concepts that aim to enhance the efficiency, quality, and value of products and services. Continuous improvement is the ongoing process of analyzing performance, identifying opportunities, and making incremental changes to processes, products, and operations. Lean systems are a set of management principles that focus on eliminating waste and maximizing value by streamlining workflows and empowering employees.

Both concepts are essential in manufacturing. Many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) require their suppliers to continuously implement improvements to improve production outcomes, enhance yields, and reduce costs. Some OEMs take an active role in developing their suppliers’ capabilities in these areas and sometimes deploy third party supplier development specialists, such as AMREP, to train the supplier.

Origin and Development of Lean Continuous Improvement

The origins and development of Lean continuous improvement can be traced back to the Toyota Production System (TPS), which was pioneered by Toyota in the 1950s. TPS was a revolutionary approach to manufacturing that sought to eliminate waste, enhance efficiency, and deliver maximum value to customers. It introduced concepts like just-in-time production, automation, and Kaizen which means continuous improvement in Japanese. TPS was influenced by the earlier work of Fredrick Taylor, Henry Ford, Shigeo Shingo, and Taiichi Ohno, among others. Over time, TPS became widely adopted by companies worldwide, transforming manufacturing practices and setting the stage for Lean to become a globally recognized and influential methodology in various industries.

Key Principles and Goals

The key principles and goals of Lean continuous improvement are based on the idea of respect for people and the pursuit of perfection. The five principles of Lean are:

This Image Depicts Key Principles and Goals
  • defining value from the standpoint of the end customer,
  • mapping the value stream, eliminating whenever possible those steps that do not create value,
  • making the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence so the product will flow smoothly toward the customer,
  • using a pull system, where products are created at the time that they are needed and in just the quantities needed, and
  • pursuing perfection, by repeating this process again and again until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste.

The goals of Lean continuous improvement are to reduce costs, minimize lead times, enhance product quality, and respond more effectively to customer demands.

Must Read:5 Phases Of Six Sigma

What Is the Continuous Improvement Model in Lean?

Continuous improvement is a key principle of Lean methodology. It aims to make every process in your company better by adding more value for your customer and eliminating more waste.

Waste is anything that does not contribute to your customer’s satisfaction. Lean identifies three main types of waste: Muda, Mura, and Muri.

  • Muda: The seven wastes Muda includes seven kinds of waste: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, and defects.
    You cannot get rid of all Muda, but you can reduce its impact on your work. This is essential for continuous improvement.
  • Mura: The waste of unevenness Mura happens when your process is inconsistent or irregular. It causes many of the seven wastes of Muda. Mura prevents your tasks from moving smoothly along your work process and disrupts your continuous flow.
  • Muri: The waste of overburden Muri occurs when you give your team too much work. This puts extra pressure on both your team and the process.
    Muri often results from Mura, and you need to eliminate both of them if you want to make continuous improvement part of your culture.

How to Apply Lean Continuous Improvement?

Lean Continuous Improvement is a never-ending process of making your products, services, or processes better by adding more value for your customer and removing more waste. You can use a six-step method to plan, sequence, and carry out improvement efforts in your organization.

This Image Depicts How to Apply Lean Continuous Improvement

1. Find the Improvement Opportunity

First, choose the right process to improve. Then, assess this process and pick a suitable challenge or problem to solve.

2. Analyze

Next, find out the root cause of this challenge.

3. Act

After analysis, make and execute a plan to fix these root causes.

4. Verify the Results

Then, check the specific actions that will help you reach your goal.

5. Make the Final Solution Standard

Make sure to make the best solution standard so that you can keep the high level of performance.

6. Plan for Future

Lastly, decide what to do with any remaining problems and measure how well your team did by setting an improvement target.

What Is a Continuous Improvement Cycle?

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a four-step method for implementing and improving processes, products, and services. It is also known as the Shewhart cycle or the Deming cycle, after the two pioneers of quality management who popularized it. The PDCA cycle helps you to plan, test, evaluate, and refine your actions in a systematic and iterative way. It enables you to learn from your mistakes, adapt to changing conditions, and achieve your goals more effectively.The PDCA cycle consists of the following phases:

  • Plan: In this phase, you define the problem or opportunity that you want to address, and set clear and measurable objectives for improvement. You also analyze the current situation, identify the root causes of the problem, and develop a plan of action that specifies the steps, resources, and timeline for the improvement.
  • Do: In this phase, you execute the plan that you developed in the previous phase. You implement the changes that you proposed, and collect data and feedback on the outcomes. You may also conduct small-scale experiments or pilot tests to minimize the risks and costs of the change.
  • Check: In this phase, you review the results of the change that you implemented in the previous phase. You compare the actual outcomes with the expected outcomes, and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the improvement. You also identify any gaps, errors, or deviations from the plan, and analyze their causes and consequences.
  • Act: In this phase, you take action based on what you learned in the previous phase. If the change was successful, you standardize and stabilize it, and apply it to other relevant areas. You also document and communicate the results and best practices, and celebrate your achievements. If the change was not successful, you revise and refine your plan, and start the cycle again with a different approach.

The PDCA cycle is not a one-time event, but a continuous process of improvement. By repeating the cycle, you can constantly monitor and improve your performance, and respond more quickly and effectively to customer needs and market changes. The PDCA cycle helps you to foster a culture of learning and innovation, and achieve excellence in your processes, products, and services.

Also Read:How to Improve Quality in Manufacturing?

Tools and Techniques for Continuous Improvement

Let’s review some of the top ten best continuous improvement tools and techniques.

A. Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a powerful tool for continuous improvement that helps you to see and optimize the flow of value from the customer’s perspective. It allows you to visualize the entire process of creating and delivering a product or service, from the raw materials to the final delivery. By mapping the value stream, you can identify the sources of waste and inefficiency, and find opportunities for improvement.

B. 5 Whys

The 5 Whys is a simple but effective technique for finding the root cause of a problem. It involves asking “why” repeatedly until you reach the underlying cause of the issue. The 5 Whys can help you to avoid superficial solutions and address the real problem.

C. Gemba Walks

Gemba Walks are a way of observing and improving the workplace by going to the place where the work is actually done. Gemba is a Japanese word that means “the real place”. Gemba Walks allow you to see the reality of the process, engage with the employees, and identify improvement opportunities.

D. A3 Problem-Solving

A3 Problem-Solving is a structured and systematic approach to solving problems and implementing improvements. It uses an A3-size paper (11 x 17 inches) to document the problem, the analysis, the corrective actions, and the action plan. It also encourages clear communication and collaboration among the stakeholders involved in the problem-solving process.

The Benefits of Lean Continuous Improvement

Lean continuous improvement is not just a set of tools or techniques, but a mindset and a culture that can change your organization for the better. By embracing Lean principles, you can achieve amazing benefits that will make you and your customers happier, such as

This Image Depicts Benefits of Lean Continuous Improvement

Implementing lean continuous improvement systems in your manufacturing practices and at your vendor sites can have many benefits, such as:

  • Saving time and money: Lean continuous improvement helps you and your vendors eliminate waste and inefficiencies, which in turn means producing more with less resources and effort. You can also reduce errors and defects; this entails less rework and more customer satisfaction. Lean continuous improvement can also help you optimize your inventory and supply chain, which means you can avoid overproduction and stockouts, and save on storage and transportation costs.
  • Boosting innovation and creativity: Lean continuous improvement encourages you and your production partners to experiment and learn from production failures, which means you can discover new ways of doing things and solving problems. It is extremely important to proactively engage with your and your vendor’s personnel in the improvement process as everyone will have unique manufacturing perspectives to contribute. Crucially, as your manufacturing partners work with many different clients, they see all types of manufacturing situations and their knowledge can greatly benefit you.
  • Enhancing quality and performance: Lean continuous improvement helps you and your vendors focus on delivering value to your customers. By calling on your organization and your vendors to implement lean continuous improvement practices, you’re improving your and your vendors’ processes and products continuously. Ultimately this results in achieving higher standards of quality and excellence. Lean continuous improvement can also help with measuring and monitoring production results, which means you can track your and your vendors’ progress and identify areas for improvement.

How should you deploy continuous improvement and make your manufacturing operations Lean? This depends very much on the individual production situations and what performance outcomes you want to achieve. Sometimes, having third party manufacturing professionals (such as those at AMREP) evaluate the production situation can help to give additional insights into areas for improvement, and there are also manufacturing specialists who can provide technical leadership on lean manufacturing operations.

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