Never Stop Improving: Tips for Continuous Improvement in Lean Manufacturing for Countertop Fabricators

Jun 8, 2022 | Business

It might be the fifth and final principle, but when it comes to lean manufacturing, they do actually save the best and most important for last.

Continuous improvement is the fifth principle of lean manufacturing, and it basically states that you should always—and we mean always—try to find better ways to do things. Even if you think you have the absolute best method of fabricating countertops in the entire world, there’s still going to be inefficiency in your system. Keep looking for it and get rid of it. Then, look for it some more.

If you want to cut waste from your countertop fabrication processes, here are a few tips to implement continuous improvement in your lean manufacturing processes!

Understand the Principles and Wastes of Lean Manufacturing

The first step to seeking improvement is to know what to look for. Think of waste as that M&M you dropped under the fridge. If you weren’t the one to drop it, you’d never know it was there, and you’d probably never pull the fridge out to get it until it was a melted piece of chocolate seeping into your floor.

Luckily, there’s a cheat sheet readily available to show you where to look. It’s called the principles of lean manufacturing! Companies have been seeking improvement for hundreds of years, and they’ve gotten pretty good at knowing where to look.

Understanding the basic principles and wastes of lean manufacturing is a great start when searching ways to improve your processes.

Need a little brush up? Check out our blog that outlines the basics of lean manufacturing. It might not show you exactly where the M&M is, but it’ll give you an idea of where to start looking.

Define the Objective

Saying you want to seek improvement is great, but what does that mean for your countertop fabrication business? “Improvement” is a very vague term. What is it specifically that you want to improve?

Before you scream “everything!,” just know it’s not that simple. Seeking improvement is like a marathon that never ends. You have to focus on one step at a time.

Instead of trying to improve your entire manufacturing process at once, break it down into smaller steps. How can you improve your process for getting slabs on the truck? Even better, is there any way to get the countertops to the loading dock with less movement?

Once you have an idea of the specific process you want to improve, define a clear and concrete objective. For this example, the objective is to load countertops onto trucks. Then, break down the steps required to complete the objective as they currently exist in your manufacturing process.

Take a good long look at the list of steps required to complete the objective. Is there anywhere you can cut waste? How can you change the process to load trucks in a more efficient manner? Try any changes that can shave off a few seconds from the process. Those seconds add up throughout the day.

When you understand your specific objective, it’s easier to focus on finding improvement without getting lost, distracted, or overwhelmed.

Who Owns What Part of the Process?

Lean manufacturing isn’t a solo project. The entire team from the owners and managers to the installers and fabricators need to be on board if you want these principles to stick. Why? Because one person doesn’t run the show.

Everyone has their role to make the manufacturing machine turn. And if you want to make improvements, you need to know who owns what part of the process.

For example, if you want to find ways to improve the countertop design process, you wouldn’t ask the accountants. They don’t own that part of the process…hopefully…

However, I’d bet just about anything that the design team has some great ideas regarding where to find waste and make improvements in the design process.

From a team standpoint, the experts in their areas are able to give advice on how to improve processes, to give suggestions about other improvements, or at the most basic level, everyone knows who you can rely on to get stuff done!

Put a Suggestion Box in the Shop

Imagine your countertop fabrication business as a town, and each part of the process is a house in the town. Remember that M&M you lost under the fridge in the beginning? Who do you think would be the best person to find it?

  1. The city manager overseeing the entire town with maps on a table, or
  2. The person whose job is to maintain that specific house

Let’s be real. Management doesn’t always know what goes on around the shop floor. They might have a general, big-picture idea of the processes, but they don’t really know the nitty-gritty details. They’re like the city manager.

When it comes to lean manufacturing and seeking improvement, waste lives in those nitty-gritty details! You need someone who actually lives in that house to find and resolve those small inefficiencies.

Any manager who thinks they can implement lean manufacturing themselves is going to fail every time. The best way to find areas of improvement around your countertop fabrication shop is to get everyone involved and communicate!

It might sound hokey, but something as simple as putting up a suggestion box is a great way to constantly improve your operation. As an employee, you can tell management about all those annoying inefficiencies that irritate you on a daily basis, and the managers can learn about the nitty-gritty details and identify ways to improve systems from the top down. Everyone wins!

Ask Yourself the Five Whys

When implementing improvements, you want to make sure the solution you provide actually fixes the root of the problem and isn’t a temporary fix. You wouldn’t put a band-aid on a broken leg! To get to the root of inefficiency, many lean manufacturing experts ask themselves the five whys.

The Five Whys Technique is a common methodology used by problem solvers all over the world. It might sound fancy, but it’s super simple—and effective. When you encounter a process that needs improvement, ask yourself why five times in a row. Here’s a quick example:

  • My countertop design process is inefficient. Why? (1)
  • Designers can’t get their work done in a timely manner. Why? (2)
  • They can’t get the information they need to complete the job. Why? (3)
  • It takes time for the customer requests to reach the designers. Why? (4)
  • The paper trail follows too many steps. Why? (5)
  • Answer: We’re not using the right drawing and estimating software.

Many people would have stopped after the first why and accused the poor designers of being lazy, but as it turns out, that’s not the case at all!

By digging to the bottom of the problem, you can avoid wasting time on temporary fixes (not to mention irritating and stressing out your coworkers) and implement a new, more efficient drawing and estimating software that would make all your jobs much easier and improve your manufacturing processes.

Never Stop Improving

While all the other tips are fantastic for helping you continually improve your manufacturing processes, there’s one tip that puts all others to shame: Never Stop Improving.

Whether you implemented your first improvement or your thousandth, there’s always more waste to track down. If you found the M&M, start looking for the chip crumbs under the couch. Found that? Get all the dust bunnies living under the bed.

It starts to sound a lot like cleaning a house in this example, but that’s exactly what it is! There’s always dirt, and there’s always inefficiencies. No matter how much you find, there’s going to be more the next time you turn around.

Keep looking, all the time, everywhere, and by everybody at your countertop fabrication business. That’s the real key to continuous improvement and lean manufacturing.

Improve Your Countertop Fabrication Operation with Lean Manufacturing

There are plenty of principles and methods in lean manufacturing—and they’re all important—but perseverance is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle. No process is perfect, and it’s up to you to constantly seek those little inefficiencies and continue to improve your processes forever and ever. That’s the only way to truly achieve lean manufacturing (or at least, as closely as you can).

At Moraware, we’re dedicated to helping countertop fabricators simplify and create efficient processes with software that gives you the tools you need to succeed. Our two software solutions, Systemize and CounterGo, are designed to streamline drawing and estimating and scheduling and job management respectively.

If you’re ready to improve your processes, schedule a demo of Moraware software today and see what it can do for your countertop fabrication operation!