Improving quality without increasing costs - Lean manufacturing practices part 2


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  In the first part of our article (you can read it here) we showed how Lean practices make quality control more effective, eliminate the possibility of manufacturing mistakes and improve the employee discipline. Today we will present three more ways in which the implementation of Lean methodologies in can provide a consistently high level of quality in end products.


4. Quality is placed first by all employees

Each company claims that the quality of its products is extremely important. At the same time, very few companies can say that they have never compromised quality to meet deadlines or to produce larger quantities. When a defect is detected or a complaint is received from a client, management often blames and "disciplines" employees for the mistake. A day later, a huge order comes in from a key customer and the same managers who yesterday wanted a higher quality of work, today insist on larger quantity - even if it means postponing the scheduled cleaning and calibration equipment, accepting "good enough” products etc. These compromises send a clear message to employees - "the boss does not care so much about quality, so why I should care?" If a manager wants his or her employees to always produce the best quality products, he or she must lead by example through his actions and instructions. Ensuring high quality can be achieved by making sure that everyone in the company follows two simple rules:

  • Do not accept bad materials or products from internal/external suppliers;
  • Do not give bad products to the next process or the end customer.

The main problem with keeping these rules comes from the fact that they directly contradict remuneration systems in most manufacturing companies, where employee payment is calculated according to the coverage of daily, weekly or monthly rates. These rates again put the focus on quantity rather than quality: employees who try to separate defective products and report problems receive less money than their colleagues who have overachieved their monthly rates by not "wasting" time in quality checks. Defects that such employees have not found - or have created themselves - will be identified at a much later stage in the manufacturing process when their removal is much more expensive for the company. They may even reach the end customer and bring long-term negatives in the form of a bad reputation.


5. Faster problem solving

Nobody likes to have problems. We want everything to go smoothly for us. Unfortunately, when it seems that things are going well in the production, it may mean that you’re just not noticing everyday problems that lower employee effectiveness. In Lean, "a lack of problems is a sign of a problem" - that is, we apparently have reached a quality level with which we are satisfied and we’ve stopped look ing for ways to improve it. A good example is the aforementioned fact that the detailed quality control of finished goods actually hide problems that occur earlier in the process. Finding and solving manufacturing problems must be an ongoing task for everyone. This may be one of the topics discussed at the daily meetings of employees in a working area. It is important that all employees in the company - both in manufacturing and in other departments - are trained in the use of basic techniques for solving problems such as 5Why (asking the question "why" five times to detect the root cause of a problem) or drawing an Ishikawa diagram, also known as a "fishbone" chart.


6. Standardization of work

Standardization of all processes is a key element of Lean manufacturing. If you do not have a standard for something, how do you know if you’re doing it well? One of the first "tasks" of Lean methodologies is standardizing workflow in terms of timeframes for the completion of each task, workflow sequences and more. This means that every employee performs his work in a certain way, passing through the same steps for a specified time and getting the same end result. Standardizing work is not just writing operational instructions and procedures. It should begin with a discussion, including employees from different levels within the company. This discussion should determine how the daily work goes, then dismantle it into separate steps and define the best way to perform each step. These best practices, agreed upon by all, become the standard that should be respected and followed by everyone - until someone finds a better way to perform some task. It all sounds very simple and logical: if all employees are trained in one way and follow precise instructions, products made by them will have consistently high quality. One of the main advantages of standardization is that when we detect a problem, it is much easier to identify the root cause of it. The first question in such cases is always "what is the standard?" and the second is "did we follow it?" From there, we can quickly trace the steps for completing a process and find out whether the problem is due to non-standard actions or other factors. Standardization can be enforced not only in manufacturing but throughout all other departments of an organization.



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