6 Sigma Lean Manufacturing

Lean is generally referred to as a manufacturing or production improvement methodology.  As a term in business, it has a broad-based customer focus that concentrates on providing more to the customer.  It does this by supplying the product that is just what the customer needs, when needed, in just the right amounts and for the right price, using the minimum materials, equipment, workspace, labor resource, and time.

The whole concept of Lean is focused on the removal of any unnecessary waste from the production process.  It focuses on producing a high quality output.

The core activity in examining any Lean process is to:

  • Map out the current components
  • Identify which elements are waste
  • Change or improve those wasteful elements and construct a new or improved process that is leaner

That is a very simple description of Lean but is the essence of the process.  The ways to find that waste and change it are what makes the process and will be examined in the following modules.

One of the most important elements about Lean is to understand its focus on the customer or consumer.  Whenever a process is looked at, it is considered from a view of the desire and needs of the customer.  Answering questions about what they want, when they want it, and what is the right price are part of the process of identifying customer value to a process.

When you know what the value is to the customer, then you examine the process to see how effectively you are meeting those needs.  In Lean, you deliver your products to the customer via a value stream.

The use of the word “stream” is no mistake; consider the flow of water in a river or stream. If there are no obstructions, then it flows freely and almost effortlessly. However, rocks and debris cause white water and inefficient flow. Lack of water can cause wide empty beds with little streams of water almost stranded.

The manufacturing or production process can be seen in much the same way.  Ensure the right amount of resources are allocated and avoid any “excess” being carried.  Removing those obstructions will enable the most efficient and effortless process flow.

A Value Stream Map (VSM) is a graphical representation of all the elements that make up a process or production.  It includes all information sources and also describes the resources at each stage and how they have arrived.  It will be mapped as a start-to-finish process map with the far left being the ‘start’ and ‘conclusion/output’ at the far right.

The VSM can often be very complex, because you want to include every element of the process you are examining, and you need to ensure that the customer of that process – which could be another part of the factory, is being considered for added value with each process point.