Understanding the Five Principles of Lean Manufacturing for Countertop Fabricators

Apr 4, 2022 | Business

Over time, it’s not uncommon to find your processes becoming stagnant. It’s the equivalent of sitting around, being lazy, eating potato chips, and watching too much TV. When your fabrication operation gets a bit too comfortable, it doesn’t take long for your processes to run slow and inefficiently.

If you want to trim some of that fat and add some efficiency back into your processes—and who doesn’tlean manufacturing is for you! Lean manufacturing is all about cutting waste and promoting value. Here are the five principles of lean manufacturing to get your countertop fabrication business off the couch and back in high gear.

1. Find Value

The first principle of lean manufacturing is value. It’s the foundation of all things lean and mean! Value here refers to what the customer will pay for. If a customer won’t pay for it, then you don’t need it in your manufacturing process.

Many fabricators undermine the importance of value. Value doesn’t just appear at the end of the manufacturing process; it’s gradually added over time.

For example, think about fabricating a countertop. A slab has very little value to customers, but when you take it into the shop and draw a design for it, it gains a little more value. When you cut the countertop, it earns a little more value. Finally, once the countertop is fully installed, it reaches its maximum value—which is when you charge the customer!

When you know where value lives, you can put more effort into making the most of those steps, cutting processes that don’t add value, and maximizing your efficiency—but we’ll get to all that in a second.

2. Map the Value Stream

Remember way back when you had to determine where value lives? Now it’s time to create a value roadmap.

Think of the value stream like… well, like a flowing stream. One process flows into the next, creating more value at each checkpoint. Your job with lean principle number two is to map out that stream.

Identify all the activities throughout the countertop fabrication process that add value (from the customer’s perspective) and how each activity flows into the next. This will give you a basic outline of how value is created in your manufacturing process, which you can work on in the next principle!

3. Create Flow

Literally think of your value stream as a stream (because they don’t call it that for nothing). The more twists, turns, rocks, and walls it has to flow over, the slower value is added and the less efficient your manufacturing process is.

Of course, rocks aren’t really rocks for your value stream. We tend to call them “bottlenecks”. They look more like inefficient processes, unnecessary movement, lack of tools, etc. Every time the person who answers the phone has to chase down the one person who knows the answer, that’s another rock your value stream has to go over or around.

Look back at your value stream. Are there any steps in your manufacturing process that don’t add value from the customers’ perspective? Of course there are! Divide them into two categories:

  • Necessary – Things you absolutely have to do for the process to move forward, but they don’t add value from the customers’ perspective. For example, transporting a finished countertop to the installation site.
  • Unnecessary – Things that don’t need to happen and don’t add value. For example, time spent searching through the equipment room to find the darn tool that always seems to go missing.

Non-value and necessary waste obviously can’t be completely eliminated, but it can be improved upon. Find ways to make these processes go as smoothly and efficiently as possible to reduce the amount of waste they add—like coming up with creative scheduling tricks to save time on deliveries or improving job communication using scheduling software.

Strive to eliminate non-value and unnecessary waste. If you can never find that darn tool, maybe it’s time for a better organization system for your equipment room or to purchase new tools so every workstation has what they need right there.

The more rocks and bends (waste) you can take out of your value “stream,” the more efficiently your manufacturing process will flow. That’s how you run a mean and lean stone business.

4. Establish Pull

What keeps business moving? Customer demand! But how you respond to demand is important when it comes to lean manufacturing.

The fourth lean manufacturing principle is establishing pull. In a standard manufacturing resource planning (MRP) system—which is still used by many, many businesses—the company “pushes” out products based on what they estimate demand to be. Because the company is driving the production, this is called a push system. They’re literally pushing out product despite actual demand, creating more product than is actually necessary. Waste city, am I right?

Instead, lean manufacturing principle four demands that you establish pull. In other words, let actual customer demand “pull” your production along. Don’t start producing anything until you know there’s a demand for it. Working the value stream backwards like this will help you reduce waste in inventory and storage costs as well as time and labor. You’re picturing all those dusty remnants in your yard, aren’t you?

5. Seek Perfection

You’ve found the value, mapped the stream, created flow, and established pull. That means your operation is perfect, right!? Not so fast…The fifth and final principle of lean manufacturing is to seek perfection. Notice how that doesn’t say “achieve” perfection.

Lean manufacturing says that you should never be satisfied with how things are. Constantly be on the lookout for waste and find ways to cut it. Even if you think your process is perfect, it’s not. Keep looking. Spoilers: You’ll never find perfection, but you might get pretty close!

Strive to Run Lean and Mean

Lean manufacturing has been successfully implemented by businesses all over the world for decades, and every operation is based on these five principles. Identify value, map the value stream, create flow, establish pull, and seek perfection. Do all that, and you’ll be well on your way to a “lean and mean” countertop fabrication operation! 

Want to understand more about these principles that so many successful fabricators follow? Check out our detailed article all about lean manufacturing!