Have you ever thought about how you can maximize productivity and minimize waste? Of course you have! That’s how you create a profitable countertop fabrication business. However, what you might not know is that lean manufacturing is actually a tried-and-true manufacturing ideology used by countless businesses all over the world. Best of all, it works!
Companies that implement lean manufacturing methods report between 10-12% gains in areas like factory utilization, manufacturing output, and labor productivity. Imagine what you could do with all that saved time, money, and energy! If you want to implement lean manufacturing processes in your countertop fabrication business, here’s what you need to know.
Definition of Lean Manufacturing
If you like the formal world of dictionary explanations, the definition of lean manufacturing would look something like this:
Lean Manufacturing: The process of maximizing productivity while minimizing waste in a manufacturing operation.
If you prefer more informal terminology, lean manufacturing is all about running as efficiently as possible. You’ve probably heard the term “lean and mean.” Well, lean manufacturing is putting that idea into action using concrete methods.
The Five Principles of Lean Manufacturing
Lean manufacturing is more than walking through your production floor and finding an old slab you can reuse. It runs on concrete methods and ideas.
There are five basic principles of lean manufacturing that you need to know the help your countertop fabrication operation run lean and mean:
Something deliverable that contains value, specifically from the customer’s perspective. How much is the customer willing to pay for your products and services? Any inefficiencies in the manufacturing process will take value away from the end product.
2. Map the Value Stream
Value doesn’t just appear once a countertop slab is finished. It’s built up over the entire process. For example, an estimate providing a visual of the end product contains more value (specifically to the customer) than an estimate that doesn’t have a visualization at all.
Every step of the process adds a little more value until you reach the end product. Mapping the value stream means to analyze the manufacturing process and its steps to increase value and remove inconsistency, waste, and overburden.
3. Create Flow
The fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line. Think of your process like a river. If it has to flow around corners and over rocks, it’s not reaching the end destination as quickly (efficiently) as possible. That’s why they call it streamline! Creating flow is all about removing functional barriers in the manufacturing process to reduce delays and waste.
4. Establish a Pull System
Do you have any slabs in your warehouse just waiting for a customer? Well, they’re technically considered waste. So far, they’ve just taken up money, effort, time, and resources without any reward.
Coming up with inventories before orders are placed is called a manufacturing resource planning (MRP) system. It’s a common type of push system used in operations all over the world. It’s called a push system because inventory already exists and is pushed out into the world to create a demand.
This “build first, sell second” mentality can cause a lot of problems and inefficiencies. If your numbers aren’t right—which is entirely possible since you’re basically just guessing what you’ll need—it could lead to not having enough inventory, too much inventory, scheduling issues, and additional storage costs.
A pull system is the opposite. In a pull system, work starts only when there’s a demand. The demand “pulls” the work along. Because there’s no extra inventory sitting around waiting to be sold, there’s very little overhead, which helps decrease waste and excess costs. It requires much more communication and an efficient workflow, but creating a pull system is an important part of lean manufacturing.
5. Continuous Improvement
Nothing is perfect, and that applies to lean manufacturing processes, too. Even when you think you have the perfect system nailed down and you’ve completely removed waste from your operation, keep looking for ways to improve.
Continuous improvement is an important part of lean manufacturing. There’s always more waste to cut. No matter how perfect you think your process is, keep looking and keep striving for perfection. Spoilers: you’ll never achieve it, but keep trying anyway! The leaner and meaner you can get, the more value you’ll provide to yourself and your customers.
The Eight Wastes of Lean Manufacturing
Wondering what to look for as you create your flow and scan the manufacturing floor? You’re in luck! Lean manufacturing methodologies outline eight specific wastes that you can try to identify and remove from your operation:
1. Unnecessary transportation
Moving things takes time and energy. If something moves unnecessarily or moves farther than it has to, it’s wasteful! A great example of transportation waste is an inefficient installation route. Don’t have your installers drive back and forth across town installing countertops when they can go in a straight line from stop to stop.
Carrying too much inventory of anything takes up space and costs money. It’s always best to have just enough inventory to keep up with demand.
Any movement that doesn’t directly contribute to the value of a product is waste. This could include moving equipment back and forth, making trips to gather tools, bending or reaching at a workstation, or even overly complicated procedures. Movement waste is typically caused by poor standard operating procedures (or lack thereof) and inefficient workplace organization.
Waiting waste typically comes from unsynchronized steps. For example, if you need to create a quote for a new customer but someone else is already using your one log-in for the software, you have to wait until they’re finished until you can draw up the countertop. All that time twiddling your thumbs is waste. Waiting can also come from poor machine maintenance, setup times, movement, or inconsistent work methods, to name a few.
Don’t produce more, before, or faster than demand requires. If you do, all that finished product is going to sit around taking up space, resources, and money. Implementing a pull system will help reduce overproduction waste.
In other words, don’t work harder than you have to. Unnecessary processing effort—whether it’s too many decision-making steps, excessive refinement, adding unnecessary features, or redundant approvals and reviews—all remove value from a product. Aka: waste!
Any repair, scrap, or reworking effort spent on a project. The best way to reduce defect waste is to maintain consistent manufacturing processes, use the right tools and equipment, and properly training your workforce.
Unused talent and ingenuity
If you have an employee who’s especially talented at drawing countertop designs, they shouldn’t be working at the saw. Wasted talent is still waste! Utilizing your employees in a way that works with their talents will promote efficiency in the workplace. This waste is difficult to identify, but if done properly, it can provide the most benefit to your operation.
Eliminating these wastes is the core of lean manufacturing. Yes, there are a lot of wastes. But if you’re a “glass half-full” kind of person, it also means there are plenty of places to cut waste from your manufacturing processes to create a leaner and meaner countertop fabrication company.
Pros and Cons of Lean Manufacturing
It might sound like lean manufacturing is the magic catchall to solve your countertop fabrication issues, but there are a few things to consider before implementing the “lean and mean” mentality.
As if running efficiently wasn’t benefit enough, there are several pros that implementing lean manufacturing methods can bring to your countertop fabrication business:
- Eliminate waste – Obviously. That’s the entire point!
- Improve quality – When you create efficient processes, you can create more high-quality products. You won’t have to worry about as many mistakes or inefficiencies that could impact quality.
- Reduce cost – Waste is expensive. When you remove it, you can save more money and reduce both material and labor costs throughout your operation.
- Save time – Without inefficient movements, steps, and processes, your employees can stay on task and improve right alongside you.
- Improve customer satisfaction – When your products have more value, lower costs, and show up in a shorter amount of time, customers are going to be much happier!
- Environmentally friendly – Fewer material, energy, and fuel wastes are good for the environment.
Although one of the five principles of lean manufacturing is perfection, the methods themselves aren’t entirely perfect. There are a few potential downsides to consider when thinking about implementing lean manufacturing processes:
- Hinders future development – Focusing so much on waste and efficiency in your current processes takes time away from looking toward new developments.
- Difficult to standardize – Some argue that lean manufacturing is more of a culture than a method. With such minor tweaks and customizations, it’s nearly impossible to standardize a lean production model. One shop’s lean and mean system most likely wouldn’t work exactly the same for any other shop.
- Employee safety and wellbeing (potentially) – Lean manufacturing leaves little margin for error. Critics argue that some lean manufacturing operations ignore employee safety and wellbeing to focus on efficiency and cutting waste.
These are possible downsides to lean manufacturing. Simply by understanding that they could exist, you can combat them and implement an even more efficient lean manufacturing process for your countertop fabrication business. Just because they could exist, doesn’t mean they have to!
Tips to Implement Lean Manufacturing Processes
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just snap your fingers and eliminate waste? Unfortunately for countertop fabricators everywhere, that’s not quite how it works. It takes time, thought, and effort to implement lean manufacturing processes.
While it might not be as easy as a snap, here are a few tips to help you reduce waste around the shop:
Always Keep Improving
The only way to reduce waste is to continuously look for it. You can’t just rearrange your shop in a more flow-worthy layout and call it a day. There’s always something to improve, so keep an eye out!
Now that you know the eight wastes of lean manufacturing, you can keep an eye out around the shop for signs of inefficiency. You just have to keep your eyes open, know your numbers, and always keep improving.
Simplify, Simplify, and Simplify Again
Often, the most efficient way to do something is the simplest. If it takes you five steps to complete a process, try to figure out how you can do it in four.
Trying to find the simplest way to complete a project is also a great way to help you reduce overprocessing waste. Take out all the unnecessary steps that eat up time and resources, and see what you’re left with. You’ll be that much closer to pure lean manufacturing!
Get Everyone Involved
Two sets of eyes are better than one; twenty sets of eyes are even better than that! When you get the whole team involved in the lean manufacturing process, they can help you look for inefficiencies and come up with ways to eliminate waste.
Remember that waste about underutilizing your employees’ talents? Here’s your chance to let it work for you! You might be surprised with the solutions your staff members come up with to decrease waste.
Go Digital Where You Can
Automation is one of the greatest modern solutions to the age-old efficiency problem. If you can bypass some of the labor that goes into a process, then you’ve eliminated most of the waste. This is why investing in machinery and technology has become so important within the industry!
One way fabricators are cutting down on time spent is to find software solutions that resolve your most time-consuming tasks like drawing, estimating, and scheduling your countertop jobs. Luckily, Moraware software like CounterGo and Systemize can help you streamline your workflow and reduce those costly wastes like reworks.
Ready to Run Lean and Mean?
The key to efficient countertop fabrication is getting your operation to run lean and mean. The more waste you can cut from your processes, the more value you can bring to you and your customers.
Keep an eye out for the different kinds of waste in your operation and come up with new ways to run more efficiently. Continue to chase that perfection!
If you want to experience how software can help you eliminate waste around the shop, contact us to schedule a demo of CounterGo or Systemize today. And, congrats on taking your first step on your path toward ultimate efficiency!