Getting back to LEAN basics

by Staff
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LEAN is a way of thinking. For many of my clients the most difficult first step is seeing their processing differently and focusing on waste. Every step, every process and every sale is an opportunity to cut out slices of inefficiency. The seven areas of wastes include:

• Over production – This is the worst of all wastes because it is evidence of other wastes and may even cause wasteful practices. I have a client now that has quite a lot of packaged and processed meat in the freezer. I have learned that some is smart storage, particularly if a holiday is several months off and the product provides considerable profit. That slice, however, is only a small part of the picture. More pounds go in the freezer everyday. In the freezer it will be moved more than once. Some product will be damaged. Energy costs to maintain a freezing temperature directly impact a company’s bottom line. Overproduction leads to other wastes, and so it goes.

• Over processing – Over processing is similar to over production. In over processing, however, the workers may cut larger portions than needed; workers may add extra spices or trim unnecessarily; over packaging can occur with additional paper or wrapping. Sometimes production workers weigh products more precisely when there is substantial tolerance or exact weights are not in the specification. In short, more effort is put into a product than is required. To identify over processing, plant operators should ask whether there is a clear understanding of customer requirements and if the product specifications are known by supervisors and QA staff.

• Inventory – Inventory of anything is considered waste. Obviously processing plants need inventory, however Lean thinking encourages minimizing surplus supplies. Inventory takes up space, can get in the way and could become obsolete if customer specifications change. Processors may want to start minimizing waste by throwing out old labels and old packaging taking up storage space.

• Defects – Rework describes processing needed to correct mistakes. Defects result in additional time and labor costs. To minimize this waste processors should quantify their defect rates. One way to do this is to subtract the actual number of packaged and boxed meat products from the number of labels printed. The difference is meat that is reworked somehow. Start by determining where the most defects occur. Then find a solution to minimizing the amount of rework in that section of the process. I have observed hundreds of rework situations. Labels and package sealing have been the biggest culprits. In all types of meat plants keeping labeling machines clean can prevent a portion of rework. Inability to seal plastic packaging properly can cause rework. Meat on the edge of a package precludes the welding of plastic surfaces. Supervisors can coach workers to ensure product is not on the edge. Every package that has to be cut open and reworked is waste.

• Motion – Issues related to wasted motion can be addressed by asking questions about an operation. For example, do workers have to search for tools, equipment or raw material? Are boxes, packaging and labels accessible when needed? Are workers walking across the plant to get supplies? Can body movement at any task be reduced? This is often the most common waste at processing plants. Operations managers can benefit from getting out of the office and observe what goes on as shifts start or during change over. If people or material are moving for no apparent reason, managers should step in and find out why. Often the workers will say they are looking for a part. Perhaps they will say material is in their way. One plant I was recently in had labels stored a city block from the production lines to ensure labels stayed dry during the sanitation shift. The waste occurred whenever individual line leaders, which numbered 10 in this plant, walked the city block to retrieve their particular labels. The easy fix was to stage the next day’s labels on a cart that could be wheeled into the production area by one person.

• Transport – Transporting equipment, product or materials further than necessary or temporarily relocating is wasteful. Seek to minimize transport by locating sequential steps as close together as possible. If vats or tubs are moved around from one place to another without adding value, a transport problem exists.

• Waiting – Waiting for anything is waste. Waiting is idle time that directly hinders workflow. Operators should determine what or if something else could be completed during this waiting time. Other solutions for minimizing waiting is staggering start times and the careful use of buffer stock.

LEAN is finding and minimizing the seven wastes: Overproduction, over processing, inventory, defects, motion, transport and waiting. Plant managers should take the time to walk through their facility with a supervisor and look for waste. There are benefits to seeing plant processes through the lens of these seven wastes. The process of waste elimination can be applied to countless applications. Lean thinking encourages eliminating waste wherever it is found. Teams trained to effectively spot waste and eliminate it create savings for their companies each day. Many little changes, like the proverbial penny saved, add up to real money.

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