Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Review: "How to Implement Lean Manufacturing" by Lonnie Wilson

If you have read “LEAN THINKING” by James P Womack and Daniel T. Jones, you may have been left wondering what Lean Manufacturing and the Toyota Production System was all about. It may have seemed mysterious and not well defined. Lonnie Wilson’s “HOW TO IMPLEMENT LEAN MANUFACTURING” is a guidebook to Lean Manufacturing that will take the mystery out of process for you. It is a practical HOW-TO guide that can be used by plant managers, executives, quality managers and production personnel to implement the Lean Systems within their facilities.

This book not only addresses the strategy on how to implement Lean Manufacturing but also addresses cultural change necessary for a successful transformation. In the end you have to sustain the gain and the book tells you what is necessary.

What makes this book standout from other Lean texts is that the book itself is written in a Lean style of writing. Lonnie uses “Points of Clarity” to highlight important concepts within the book. Additionally he uses hundreds of visual graphics and tables that draw the reader’s attention. Visual clues and organization is a key concept in Lean. I don’t think you can turn two or more pages without being grabbed by a new visual to help make a point in the book.

I was impressed with the level of practical detail. Need to calculate OEE or the proper KANBAN size? Does Value Stream Mapping have you confused? The book provides the formula’s necessary. It places these concepts in context to the big picture of efficiency, lead-time or cycle-time reduction. The book is filled with personal examples from Lonnie Wilson’s career leading transformation efforts. Case studies are also given to drive home and follow the complete process of a successful Lean project and some that are not so successful.

This is a book I would personally recommend to anyone getting ready to attend a Lean training workshop. Read this book first and you will be prepared for your class. As a university instructor, I like to tell my students, “The answer is in the book”. I think you will find many insightful answers about Lean in Lonnie Wilson’s “HOW TO IMPLEMENT LEAN MANUFACTURING”.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Which Strategy is Best - LEAN or Six Sigma

The question is asked under what conditions Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma should be applied. Examining the strategy of the two methodologies might help with answering this question. Lean strategies focus on elimination of waste by using tools such as KANBAN, 5S, Kaizen and Total Productive Maintenance. The roots of lean are footed in the Toyota Production System. Meanwhile Six Sigma strategies are targeted for the elimination of variation within processes. Six Sigma focuses on a structured system of Master Black Belts, Black Belts, Green Belts armed with tools such as SPC, Capability Analysis, Process Mapping and Quality Function Deployment. In their article “Lean Sigma”, Antony, Escamilla and Caine (2003) suggest companies today are seeking to identify what strategy fits the culture of their organizations the best. In some cases the authors suggested a blended or mixed approach would be beneficial.

There are cultural differences between the two methodologies that suggest one might choose Lean vs. Six Sigma or vice versa. In “Where Lean Meets Six Sigma”, Drickhamer (2002) indicates lean programs are firmly rooted in a teamwork centered culture while Six Sigma has an “elitist” factor utilizing highly trained black belts and specialist working on long projects in distant offices from the factory floor. The author also suggests benefits from a blended or mixed approach.

The proper sequence to apply a blended approach might be with Lean first and then bringing in Six Sigma tools as needed. This approach is suggested in a Works Management article (Anonymous, 2003). The statement is made that “the key lean principles generally offer the broader base from which to assess current performance…and will be the best starting place”. Six Sigma can be a final pillar for a Lean program.

Finally, there is no clear answer to the question about when to apply lean and when to apply Six Sigma. Recent literature is recommending a blended or mixed approach to gain greater benefits by using the best elements of each approach.


Anonymous (2003), Does Six Mix?, Works Management, 56(6), p14-16

Antony, J., Escamilla, J.L., and Caine, P. (2002), Lean Sigma, Manufacturing Engineer, 82(2), p40.

Drickhamer D.,(2002) Where Lean Meets Six Sigma, Industry Week, 51(4), p55.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Revisiting Kaizen!

Every once in a while it's time to dust off an older Blog post and revisit the topic. So here is one I originally wrote in 2005 about Kaizen. I've seen several definitions for the translation of the word Kaizen but the one that works best for me is "change excellent". In a number of ways Kaizen has become to mean continuous improvement. The folks embracing LEAN manufacturing use Kaizen events as a tool for improvement. Kaizen events are short term in length and focused on a specific problem or problem area needing improvement. A team will come together to work on the elimination of wastes or "Muda". There are 8 deadly wastes in the Kaizen world - DOWNTIME
  • D - Defects
  • O- Overproduction
  • W -Waiting
  • N - Not utilizing people
  • T - Transport
  • I - Inspection
  • M - Motion
  • E - Excess Processing

A Kaizen event is tyically focused on reduction of wastes. Kaizen methods from the House of Lean may be used. Some areas of focus might be as follows

  1. Work Flow Kaizen - improving workflow through KANBAN or even achieving single piece workflows
  2. Set Up reductions - Reducing machine setup time.
  3. Variability reductions - improve processing quality through six sigma tools.
  4. 5S - Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain
  5. TPM - improve equipment reliability through total productive maintenance.

Organizations using LEAN have shown that they can:

  • Meet Customer Demand consistently
  • Reduce environmental emissions and improve safety performance
  • Increase output and production
  • Improve quality
  • Reduce changeover and setup times
  • Obtain more flexible manufacturing systems.

A Kaizen event can be used in almost any circumstance manufacturing or non manufacturing. Focusing on specific goals these events are short term in nature usually 2-5 days at most. The events are well planned in advance and utilize a cross functional team of employees. Most importantly these events are focused on action and resolving problems quickly. Organizational knowledge is improved through the use of Kaizen. During the event, employees will document the current state of operations, brainstorm and make recommendations on improvement, utilize the LEAN tools such as 5S and finally they will implement changes and measure the results. Together with management support the Kaizen event team will celebrate the successes.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

To Err is Human!

As an engineer, I am always concerned about errors I may make in my calculations and work that I submit to my employer or clients. I don't know why humans make errors but we can't seem to get away from it. No matter how well intentioned we are we err. I have read that the rate for routine tasks such as typing is about 1 error per 100 tasks. And the error rate apparently increases with the complexity of the task.

To stem the tide of errors in your work:

1) Ask for proofreading or "cold-eyes" review of your work or calculations.
2) Slow down and take the time it needs to do quality work. Remember that project triangle of good-cheap-fast, pick any two.
3) Avoid long continuous stretches of work. Take small breaks, walk, get out of the office and relax occasionally. Refresh your mind.

Errors occur in everything we do. They are leading contributors to accidents and costly design mistakes. Doctors, Lawyers, postmen, pilots and truck drivers are not immune from making errors.

Someone once stated, "If you have never made an error you have never tried anything!" How true. So let's all stay focused and prevent errors. One employer I worked with counted data entry errors and targeted for a Six Sigma performance level with employees in a particular function. It can be this important!