Offering products and services of high quality is the main goal of most companies at our country and abroad. Achieving and maintaining excellent quality, however, is often considered a difficult and time-consuming process which requires the purchase of expensive machinery and equipment. Meanwhile, there are companies of all sizes and industries capable of manufacturing products with less than 50 defective units per million (0.005% rate). The most impressive thing about these companies is that the achievement of these quality levels is not tied to automation or other significant expenditures. They achieve and maintain excellence quality by implementing "Lean" principles. Lean is a term covering a variety of methodologies, techniques and tools aimed at using less labour, materials, time and physical space to produce products with better quality compared to traditional working practices. Less than 1% of companies worldwide are indeed "Lean" throughout their whole production process, but many others use Lean principles and techniques in their manufacturing.
How does Lean improve quality? Enforcing Lean manufacturing practices - especially when they are part of a comprehensive methodology - brings the following advantages to quality:
1. More effective quality control
In traditional production methods, there’s often the case of detecting a defect in the finished product - after thousands of faulty units from several different batches have already been produced. The result is not only large quantities of waste but also an inability to detect the root cause of the problem - the wrong step in the process that led to the subsequent defect. In a Lean company, products can be inspected more quickly after they’ve been put into production, which facilitates finding the root cause of a defect. In addition to being faster, quality audits in Lean organizations are more efficient and therefore cheaper to carry out. Checking the quality of 100% of the finished product is considered almost standard practice in many companies, but actually represents a huge waste of time and money. When we look at the cost of doing quality control, the reduced manufacturing capacity (initial production of defective products and their subsequent repair), the waste of time and space to collect and store defective products, as well as the missed delivery deadlines to clients, we realize how inefficient the whole process is.
The purpose of quality control should be finding and eliminating the root cause of a defect rather than "patching up" the current situation without understanding the reasons for it.The implementation of Lean principles enables quality assurance throughout the production process, which reduces the need of inspections and the associated costs.
2. Quality Assurance
No quality control system is perfect. If you make any mistakes in the production process, you can be sure that sooner or later some of them will reach the end customer despite all efforts. Moreover, comprehensive quality control cannot replace regular machine maintenance and callibration, adequate employee training and compliance with labour standards. Performing detailed quality checks of the final product actually has a negative effect on quality in most cases, since people are reassured by the fact that any mistake they make will be caught later on in the production chain and it’s not necessary for them to “waste” time in self-checking quality. One Lean practice for this problem is the implementation of “Poka – Yoke” solutions. Poka – Yoke is a Japanese term which literally means " resistant to mistakes" or “mistake-proof”. This is a methodology for eliminating defects by removing the possibility to create them in the first place. A good example is the color-coding of wires in various electronic components, preventing the wrong connection of cables by employees or clients. Another example is SIM cards for mobile phones: they are shaped in such a way that they cannot be put incorectly into the device. Similar solutions can be applied anywhere in the production line where there is the possibility of human mistake. The result of using Poka – Yoke solutions is less spending on quality control, simplifying employee work and reduced defects - without having to make large investments!
3. Better discipline
Laying the foundations for quality production is not difficult – putting work instructions and photos with “pass / fail” examples of products for each workplace can be done in days. The hard part is training the staff and imposing a good work discipline on them. In this respect, nothing can replace the presence of management staff in production areas. Managers in many manufacturing companies, however, prefer to spend their day in the office, where they always have coffee nearby and the temperature is pleasant all year thanks to the air conditioner. The lack of managerial presence on the shopfloor harms both the company and the final customer.
Every Lean manager makes daily tours of production lines through which to examine the work of his or her employees. Read the second part of the article here.
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