In a case study, Manufacturing Business Technology Magazine shows us how a company used lean manufacturing principles to achieve a 90 percent improvement in on-time delivery, 20 percent reduction in waste, and a 35 percent improvement in productivity. Starting in 2003, FLEXcon, which manufactures pressure-sensitive film and adhesive products, has saved 10 times the dollar amount as it invested to implement these principles and train their 1,000 employees.

FLEXcon has integrated lean manufacturing into all aspects of the company including its corporate culture. Through the steps outlined below, they have improved productivity, improved customer relations, and have grown their sales, earnings, and competitiveness.

Kaizens

In a kaizen, a multi-department team of production management employees are assigned to a specific problem and carefully map out and analyze processes, then recommend solutions. FLEXcon applied kaizens to many aspects of internal operations. FLEXcon’s Packaging Kaizen, for example, looked closely at how pressure sensitive film products were prepared for shipment to customers after rolls had been slit. A frequent issue employees ran up against was backlogs in packaging which were causing machine downtime, lost productivity and delayed order delivery.

Cellular Manufacturing

The concept, which seeks to take advantage of the similarity between parts through standardization and common processing, allowed FLEXcon to reorganize plant layout so finishing machines were aligned directly next to the automated packaging line conveyer, and the conveyor was directly aligned to the packaging area, creating a seamless process in which products exiting the slitter could be ready for shipping in a mere four minutes.

5S Visual Workplace

The 5S visual approach, which focuses on providing clear visual cues to help identify and expedite processes, used color-coded cards and labels for quick identification of certain activities or materials and created  neat and clutter-free work areas. In line with each of the five S’s, we sort (remove unnecessary items from each work area); set in order(such as installing shadow boards to indicate where co-workers could place tools after use); shine (set preventive cleaning schedules); standardize (put certain key procedures in our ISO documentation); and sustain (assign specific areas for regular cleaning by certain personnel).

Kanbans

Within lean manufacturing, visual records or signals are known as “kanbans.” They add precision to the work process. FLEXcon adopted this by introducing a system of color-coded labels to identify each operation within our plants. Adhesive coating, top-coating and laminating, for example, each have their own distinctive color. The colored labels on a product roll allow operators to see from a distance if all processes on that roll are complete or what remains to be done. Among other benefits, this eliminates the possibility of a roll being transferred to finishing prematurely.

Waste Reduction

“Waste,” as defined by lean principles, means more than just leftover materials on the shop floor. It includes overproduction and excess inventory, unneeded motions by workers and bottlenecks that cause excessive waiting. This expanded definition inspired the organization to find time and cost-saving opportunities which otherwise may have been missed.

Value Stream Mapping

When a kaizen team creates a map showing the step-by-step process by which a product is manufactured, finished and shipped, bottlenecks often become clear. A careful and thorough mapping process helps us identify, reduce or eliminate tasks that do not add value. By applying this process to our coating machine set-up process, for example, we identified ways to reduce waste and time required for set-up between product runs. Measures included shorter clean up times and a reduction in total footage of product in the start-up mode prior to the first “good” foot on a roll. Additional inspections helped us find and correct issues during the run rather than after it was completed, which reduced the need to re-run jobs and contributed to our ability to deliver orders more quickly.

By integrating these principles of lean manufacturing into their company and corporate culture, FLEXcon has been able to see improvements across the manufacturing process and even into other aspects of their business. Taking time to understand lean manufacturing and analyze the current processes within a manufacturing business can be well-worth the investment, whether it is time, energy, or money. And these efficiency improvements can be undertaken with the existing manufacturing infrastructure.

To read more, head over to mbtmag.com.