Achieving Henry Ford's success with lean manufacturing

IT services & consulting company Visual Components shares the top seven principles for manufacturers to improve processes, such as reducing waste & defects

With the UK being the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world, it’s a highly competitive sector that is leading manufacturers to take every step available to bring costs down. 

Lean manufacturing, otherwise known as lean production, six sigma, or kaizen, revolves around the optimisation of the manufacturing process. Specifically, this means greater efficiency, faster processes and higher consistency, plus production at a higher level of precision. While innovative, it’s a concept that’s existed for over a century, being prominently adopted in Henry Ford’s car production line in the United States and being widely used in Japanese manufacturing thereafter.

While able to bring a range of benefits, to truly understand and adopt lean manufacturing processes, it’s critical for manufacturers to understand the seven major principles behind the philosophy.

1. Elimination of waste

Reducing waste is critical to lessening the environmental impact of the manufacturing process and enable cost savings. Gaining the visibility of where this can be achieved is made possible by the use of 3D simulation software. By simulating a planned component machining system for example, manufacturers can identify where equipment can be removed from the real device without impacting on its performance.


2. Valuing the human element

Lean manufacturing places as much focus on employees as it does machinery. It’s critical for leaders to ensure that staff aren’t overworked, made accountable for successes and failures and have clear visibility of what their tasks achieve. The most optimised technology doesn’t count for anything if employees are undervalued and appreciated. Manufacturers can again deploy 3D simulation software in such settings to keep staff safe, such as accounting for social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic.


3. Seeking perfection

Continually looking to improve the manufacturing process also means a continuous desire for perfection, and places improvement at the heart of the organisation’s culture. Lean manufacturing revolves around constant evolution and always avoiding complacency. Organisations can use 3D simulation software to continually refine improvements before applying them in the real world.


4. Mapping the value stream

The value stream details how a product is created in the facility, or in other words, the map that tracks raw material on its journey to becoming the final product. By laying this map out with arrows that show each process, manufacturers are likely to identify where improvements can be made. 3D simulation software can enable this stream to be visualised.


5. Reducing and preventing mistakes

Mistakes result in wasted material, time and money, so they work directly against the idea of lean manufacturing. While it’s the case that not every mistake can be avoided, reducing them as much as possible is key to ensuring efficiency. One of the ways that this can be done is by installing robotics into the production line, and by using a robot simulation to refine the process, possible mistakes can be detected before they happen in the real world.


6. Identifying loss of value

The elements that make up value in the manufacturing process are lead times, price points, colour, material properties and material used, functional and geometric requirements of the product and repeatability, accuracy and precision of parts. Simulation software can enable manufacturers to see if there are any extra process steps or unnecessary features that will hurt that value.


7. Automatically finding defects

In the case where mistakes can’t be prevented, there should be processes in place to achieve automatic detection. This could involve the identification and removal of any defective material. For example, if ferrous metal contamination is ruining the product, then the installation of strong magnets along the line will automatically find defects, while smart sensors or cameras could be installed to also achieve the same effect.


Sending manufacturing into new directions

Following these seven principles will not only allow manufacturers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and optimisation, but will also open up new opportunities in the manufacturing process. One of these is just-in-time manufacturing. With a culture around lean processes, manufacturers are better placed to produce goods based solely on demand, helping to reduce capital and money involved in the production. While this means that longer lead times await customers as production only happens after an order is made, the potential for wasted products can be eradicated.

Ultimately, lean manufacturing enables a highly efficient, environmentally-friendly and competitive manufacturing process via the assistance of emerging technologies such as automation and simulation. With this, manufacturers are better able to design a factory of the future that’s aligned with the digitised ideals of Industry 4.0, and also leaves them in a much stronger position to adapt to a rapidly changing sector.


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