Workspaces are a ripe area for efficiency initiatives.

Key steps in Lean manufacturing implementation include performing value-stream mapping, optimizing storage configurations, giving workers tools for success, working toward consistency, and continually reassessing what further changes will benefit a process.

Taking the time to assess the needs of a facility and cut down on waste is the first step in implementing Lean manufacturing practices. Work with team members throughout the manufacturing process to determine what parts and tools are needed for current production demands. Assess everything in the production warehouse and get rid of anything that isn’t currently being used. Depending on the item and your predicted future demands, you may choose to either relocate the item away from production areas, or dispose of it entirely. Excess stock takes up valuable space in your production facility, slows down manufacturing and can hide production issues.
 
An important part of assessing a facility’s needs is performing value-stream mapping. This will help reveal what steps are currently being taken in a manufacturing process, where delays occur, where other waste may come into play, and how to resolve these issues. Value-stream mapping can be used not just to determine the current state of your manufacturing facility, but also to map out an ideal future-state process.

Next, a plan can be made for how to implement new processes. One of the key aspects of this plan is figuring out how and where to store tools, parts and other items to most effectively use space and time. For example, open shelving often wastes space between shelves and toward the back of each shelf, and therefore is an inefficient storage method for all but the largest, bulkiest items. High-density drawer storage can be used instead to reduce storage footprints. Another option is to retrofit existing shelving with modular high-density drawer storage inserts.

Finally, assessing what items need to be stored nearest to production areas and what items are best stored away from these areas will increase efficiency of production. Items that see the highest use traffic should be stored where they are used, while lower-traffic items and those that are bulky and in the way of production should be stored farther away.

Factors that come into play in worker comfort include cleanliness, accessibility, safety and ease of use of working environments. Clean environments free from spills, dust, airborne particles and toxic or irritating substances are safer workplaces. Making sure workspaces are clean should be one of the top priorities of a Lean manufacturing process, and is easier to maintain when storage, workspaces, and workflow are streamlined.

Work stations that include storage for the most frequently used parts and tools are the best way to increase employee comfort and productivity simultaneously. Flexible workstations that can be adjusted to individual workers are especially useful.

Of course, these Lean manufacturing practices will only bring about the desired results if implemented consistently. Not only does a workstation or storage area have to start out clean and organized and a process plan streamlined, but they need to remain that way. Ensuring workers at all levels are invested in the Lean manufacturing process and are accountable for maintaining the environment is crucial. In addition, adapting along the way is essential. Be sure to stay on top of how efficient the workflow is, how well practices are being implemented, and determine whether changes need to be made.

Once Lean manufacturing practices are implemented, continue to perform value stream mapping, identify areas where improvements can occur, plan for the future, and execute these plans. Through a continued willingness to evaluate new solutions, your practices, efficiency and process flow continually improve.

John H. Grover Jr. is Lean manufacturing manager and automotive repair America, Lista (listaintl.com); john.grover@sbdinc.com.

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