Keeping it Lean from Aerospace to Woodworking
by Stéphanie Meunier, Planit Canada VP of Operations
Some years ago, I had the privilege of working for almost three years in two aerospace manufacturing plants alongside dedicated and hard-working people. I worked in an office, but every day I was involved in projects that would bring me to the production floor, and I loved every minute of it! I had been collaborating with manufacturers for years before this and had heard about Lean manufacturing, 5S, Kaizen and Kanban, but never got to experience what it truly means.
What a revelation it was! I remember my eyes opening wide as I listened and saw how those principles came alive in operations of all levels. I absorbed and learned and thought to myself; “every single manufacturing company should put this in place!” I have visited over one hundred manufacturing shops in my career, in all types of industries. I could always tell a well-structured operation from one that needed improvement, but it wasn’t until I began to learn Lean principles that I understood the ‘why’ behind it.
After evolving in a Lean environment, you gain a different perspective on operations and what the impact of implementing the related principles can have on results, on operations – but mostly, on people. Yes, that’s right. The greatest impact is on what drives a company every day, on the heart and soul of the business; the humans behind the logo.
When I joined Planit Canada and began visiting our customers, it was clear to me that our industry could benefit from implementing the principles I’d learned in aerospace. Several woodworking manufacturers in Canada are already on-board and ahead of the pack. They stay current with their software, have Lean manufacturing practises in their DNA and will thrive for years to come. But for others, implementing just a few of these principles in their daily operations could change things for the better and be a first step towards a better work/life balance.
Here are the top Lean manufacturing tools that I think can have an impact on efficiency, profits & losses and well-being (because that’s a thing! A super important one!);
- 5S: a principle that finds its origin in the Toyota Production System. Implementing 5S is achieved by finding and eliminating waste from production processes. This relates to everything from placement of items within a station, to the layout of the production floor. For example, knowing where things are placed in one’s work area to easily access what is needed by clearly seeing where it is and knowing it will always be there (if no one is using it). The 5s are also about eliminating wasted time, standardising processes, and having sustainable practices. Consider how a clean environment is not only more efficient but also prevents accidents – it’s a win-win. Here are the 5 “S”:
- Set in Order
- Just-In-Time: a principal that aims to alleviate the production process linked to customer demand instead of producing based on projections. It leverages tools like Continuous flow, Kanban, Standardized Work and Takt Time. It reduces the need for inventory, improves your cash flow and reduces the need for space. Now brace yourself for a product plug; we have software for that! WEB-CAB is the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) that helps with exactly this and more. (Ask us about it!)
- KPI: Key Performance Indicators. It’s like when you drive your car, if you have no dashboard, how do you know if you need more gas, if you are speeding or if your engine has issues? Ok, if smoke comes out of the hood, it’s a pretty clear indicator! But you would have known before and brought it in for repairs, had a light on your dashboard warned you. Same principle, different application. Someone once told me: “what gets measured gets done”. If you have no clue about what must get done, if you don’t know how productive the team is, or what your inventory level is and what order needs to go out first, how can your decisions and actions be aligned with your company’s objectives? It doesn’t have to cost much; white boards and erasable markers can do the trick. As long as it doesn’t just collect dust. You should set up daily 15 minutes stand up meetings to review, update, address issues and decide on an action plan. Communication is the key, and listen to your team, they often have the solutions. (This is also something that can quickly and easily be set up in WEB-CAB, btw!)
Of course, these principles require time and effort to take a step back and figure out how you can transform a process – and it doesn’t mean you have to stop production and work on it for days or weeks. Little steps every day can lead to a world of change in just one year. At Planit Canada, we started on a similar journey a little over 2 years ago and it amazes me every day how our habits have changed, how much more efficiently we work – just by taking a step back and asking ourselves the right questions. I can also see how much happier everyone is, because we know we will keep seeing changes, no matter how small.
My final thought would be; read up on Lean principles, there are a ton of amazing articles online. Find a tool that speaks to you, get your team on board and start having fun and allow yourself and everyone in your team to make mistakes. That’s where you learn the most and grow.