Lean Manufacturing Concepts and How to Use Them Part II

In a previous article, Lean Manufacturing Concepts and How to Use Them Part I, we talked about wastes, flow, and over burdening as core concepts of Lean.  For part II we are going to look at autonomation (aka jidoka) and continuous improvement (aka kaizen) and radical change/improvement (aka kaikaku).


Autonomation or jidoka is smart automation.  I way I like to remember this is “machines working for people instead of people working for machines.”  This is especially important during the design phases of projects.  A bad example of jidoka is when you are designing a production line and want to maximize the use of old equipment and space.  You decide that you have extra parts laying around and why not take advantage of what you currently have instead of designing from scratch.  This leads to you working around the existing equipment and the constraints around it.  I worked on a project once where we were going to use old conveyor and re-purpose the line.  We projected we would have an increase of 20% of output form this new line and we could reuse much of the equipment that already was laying around.  We then went to do a Lean design and decided that we didn’t need any conveyor at all.  After implementing that line we got double the productivity of the old line (aka 2x the output).

When designing with autonomation in mind ask yourself three questions 1) How fast does this item need to be produced at this station to meet customer demand. 2) How fast is the human time 3) what is the machine time.  These three pieces of information will tell you exactly how much automation and people power you need to make your line flow.

Continuous Improvement/Kaizen

This is a concept that most folks in lean are familar with.  Usually it’s in terms of a “Kaizen Event.”  These events are anywhere from 1/2 a day to 5 days and are highly focused on implementation of improvements.  Kaizen or continuous improvement in a Lean culture is also daily with daily meetings, projects, and ideas on how to constantly improve incrementally.  One way this manifests is pitch tracking.  Pitch tracking is when you pick a time frame where you track your production.  Let’s say you want to track production hourly and you know what you should produce each hour given your staffing levels.  Every hour you would see if you were short of your goal, achieved your goal, or exceeded the goal.  If you were short you track the reason why you were short.  After a week you sort the issues from biggest to least impact and then you create a plan to solve the biggest impact.  Repeat this process until you get diminishing marginal returns on your efforts.

Radical Improvement/KaiKaku

Kaikaku or radical improvement is a lesser known concept but it’s an important one.  Once you start getting diminishing returns on your continuous improvement efforts you need to shake things up.  This is usually a radical transformation that changes how you do production or even a change to your business model.  One example is IBM changing from a computer company to a consulting company.  On an operational level this can be something like going from silo builds with cells to an assembly line that flows with feeder lines.  Another radical improvement you maybe familiar with is Netflix going from buying content to creating their own content.  Radical change with Lean will use processes like 3P to generate dramatic change.  You can also use tools like Blue Ocean Strategy and Lean Start Up to help drive radical improvement.


By combining these concepts you can get a good starting point with Lean Manufacturing.  For more information on how to implement Lean into your business you can apply for a Discovery Call on how you can implement Lean in Your Business.