This article appeared in the October 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
Manufacturing is entering a new era. New challenges are arising, with stronger global competition than ever, millennials entering the workforce and Industry 4.0 set to transform the industry as we know it. Risks are changing as well, with economic uncertainty on the horizon and cyber-attacks becoming an increasing threat to the industry. All things considered, manufacturers can no longer proceed with business as usual if they plan to find long-term success and remain competitive.
Success requires change. This concept is not new to manufacturers, with continuous improvement largely engrained in the industry’s culture and history. And while the current business landscape may be vastly different than what manufacturers have experienced before, the same tools and concepts from the past can be used to inspire change and improve practices in this new setting.
Within manufacturing, a common way to initiate change is with Kaizen. This Lean tool is used to minimize waste and improve processes in production. Following the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” cycle, Kaizens are implemented to drive problem solving and continuous improvement initiatives in a facility. By identifying and tackling areas most in need of improvement in production, Kaizens effectively create more organized, safe and efficient work environments.
Beyond improving processes, Kaizens can support a variety of strategic initiatives, particularly those addressing current challenges in the industry, including:
- Workforce – As a result of many Kaizen events, standardized work instructions are created. With procedures outlined in this way, onboarding and training new workers can be completed much easier and quicker. Attraction and retention efforts are supported as well, as workers will be more comfortable in the newly cleaned and organized work environment. Involving workers in future Kaizen events will further boost engagement and ownership.
- Stability Now & Beyond – Improved processes not only boost safety and organization, but also efficiency and profitability. By eliminating waste and speeding up production, the economic stability of the business will be strengthened. This is especially critical now, as the future of the economy is uncertain. Additionally, if a Kaizen event has opened capacity, the company might have an opportunity to expand into new products or markets. This diversification will provide more stability to the organization going forward, whether they decide to produce new products altogether or simply supply to new customers or countries.
- Industry 4.0 – While your team works to improve a given process during a Kaizen event, they might end up identifying an opportunity or need for technology. For example, a dull, dirty or dangerous job might benefit from automation, or work standardization and training could be improved with Augmented Reality. Aligning technology with your operational needs in this way will aid in optimizing processes and improve competitiveness down the line.
Manufacturers should not get overwhelmed by these industry changes but should instead learn to embrace them and change in tandem. By adopting this culture of continuous improvement with Kaizen, your organization can find stability and success in the present and future of manufacturing.