The Impact of Lean Manufacturing Principles on Efficiency

In some contexts, the term “lean” can have negative connotations. People typically interpret a lean year for a business to be one where revenues are down. However, manufacturers are increasingly discovering that becoming leaner in their operations is a very good thing!

This article delves into the concept of lean manufacturing — what it is, how it benefits companies, and the techniques and systems that support this idea in production processes.

What Is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is a production philosophy with multiple equally important goals. The objective most people are familiar with is minimizing waste. That can mean anything from unnecessary materials to unneeded actions. It includes not having excess inventory waiting for shipping to customers, which is why lean manufacturing is closely related to just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing.

Lean manufacturing also focuses on continual improvement. You may hear the term Kaizen used to describe this aspect. Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy that advocates small, incremental changes to help companies operate more effectively.

These and other aspects of lean manufacturing result in a manufacturer delivering maximum value to its customers. Lean businesses also seek to empower employees and improve their working conditions. By encouraging people on the frontlines to identify opportunities for improvement, companies increase their workers’ sense of ownership and improve their job satisfaction while simultaneously feeding ideas into the continual improvement loop.

When Was Lean Manufacturing Developed?

People began using “lean” to describe production systems in the late 1980s, but the idea goes back much further. Henry Ford’s concept of the assembly line made manufacturing leaner. Later, Toyota actively enhanced and advocated for the lean methodology.

However, the idea wasn’t (and isn’t) limited to automotive manufacturing or even to manufacturing. Companies in virtually every industry have benefitted from learning how to operate leaner.

As the Lean Enterprise Institute says, “Lean is a way of thinking about creating needed value with fewer resources and less waste. And lean is a practice consisting of continuous experimentation to achieve perfect value with zero waste. Lean thinking and practice occur together.”

The goals of perfect value and zero waste may be challenging, but any movement in that direction benefits a company.

How Lean Manufacturing Improves Efficiency

One of the primary objectives in a lean manufacturing environment is to increase efficiency. How companies leverage lean principles to achieve that goal can vary, but some of the core concepts include the following:

  • Identifying value. Define what constitutes value for the customer and eliminate anything that doesn’t contribute to it.
  • Performing value stream mapping. Visually map and analyze the entire production process to identify and eliminate waste.
  • Creating flow. Arrange processes in a logical sequence to minimize transport, waiting times, and bottlenecks.
  • Metering production. Produce only what the customer demands when they demand it, avoiding overproduction and excess inventory.
  • Practicing level loading. Distribute production tasks evenly across the workforce and equipment to avoid overloading and underutilization.
  • Embracing Kaizen. Strive for continuous improvement through ongoing problem-solving and process refinement.
  • Standardizing processes. Establish best practices and procedures to ensure consistency and quality.
  • Respecting workers. Empower employees to identify and solve problems, fostering a culture of ownership and engagement.
  • Implementing systems to streamline processes. Deploy devices that maximize the work employees can do. (This is described in more detail later in this article.)

Why Go Lean?

Eliminating wasted materials, motion, and time takes a committed effort. Why would a manufacturing company strive for leaner operations rather than simply sticking with what works?

Some of the many advantages of lean manufacturing include:

  • Reduced costs. Lean practices lead to reduced waste, lower inventory levels, and improved resource utilization. This translates to significant cost savings.
  • Improved quality. Waste reduction often leads to improved quality. By focusing on optimizing activities, manufacturers can minimize errors and defects.
  • Increased customer satisfaction. Faster delivery times, improved quality, and enhanced responsiveness to customer needs contribute to higher customer satisfaction.
  • New business opportunities. Happy customers sharing their experiences with their peers is powerful (and free) word-of-mouth advertising.
  • Enhanced employee morale. Empowered employees involved in continuous improvement feel a sense of ownership and value, leading to higher morale and job satisfaction.
  • Improved recruiting and retention. Happy employees attract prospective employees in the same way that loyal customers attract new ones.
  • Enhanced sustainability and reduced carbon footprint. Lean manufacturers use fewer materials and consume less energy in production processes. That benefits the environment and can also help attract great employees and new customers.

So, companies aren’t pursuing lean for lean’s sake. Their efforts are an investment in the business that can produce rapid and lasting benefits.

Industrial Manipulators: Essential Systems for Lean Manufacturing

One of the most impactful actions manufacturers can take to make their operations leaner is implementing lift-assist devices, material handlers, and other industrial manipulators. What are industrial manipulators? They’re mechanized systems that empower workers to move and manipulate objects on a production line in various ways.

Industrial manipulators utilize grippers, vacuum attachments, and other tools tailored to specific tasks. The systems improve manufacturing operations in several ways, including that they can:

  • Increase worker capacity. By removing the physical strain of heavy lifting, workers can stay productive longer and experience less fatigue. This increased capacity optimizes labor resources.
  • Improve speed and accuracy. Automated manipulators and assisted lifting enable faster, more precise material handling. This accelerates production timelines, minimizes errors, and reduces product damage.
  • Reduce workplace injuries. Manual material handling is a significant cause of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Manipulators and lift-assist devices greatly reduce strain on workers, lowering the risk of injuries and associated costs like downtime and workers’ compensation claims.
  • Enhance product quality. The precision of industrial manipulators can improve product quality, particularly in tasks requiring repetitive movements.

Industrial manipulators are flexible and highly customizable in the assistance they can provide. Many are adaptable to various tasks and workspaces. This allows manufacturers to collaborate with Dalmec to configure production lines for maximum efficiency and to reconfigure them in response to changing market demands.

The Real-Life Impact of Industrial Manipulators

Phrases like “increase worker capacity” are accurate but may seem somewhat abstract. Here’s a real-world scenario that brings the benefits of industrial manipulators into sharp focus.

Imagine an employee whose job is to pull a heavy component off the product line, enhance it in some way, and then get help from a coworker to move the now heavier item back onto the line. There are multiple downsides to this operation.

For example, pulling the component off the line involves strain, and strain can cause injuries. There are also risks to the person’s safety (like dropping the object onto their foot or falling while carrying it) and to the object itself (breaking when it hits the floor). Then, requiring assistance takes the other employee away from what they’re doing, and there may be delays while waiting for their help.

Now, picture an industrial manipulator enabling the worker to lift the component, move it to their workstation, and return it to the line with no physical strain or assistance. The operation is faster and safer, no fatigue-related slowdowns occur, and the employee goes home after their shift with energy to spare. That is the impact an industrial manipulator can have at this workstation and others up and down the production line.

Deploying Industrial Manipulators Successfully

You may think, “Our manufacturing operations could definitely benefit from industrial manipulators, but I wouldn’t know where or how to get the most from them.” That’s understandable, particularly if you’ve never used these systems before.

However, when you work with Dalmec, you get much more than hardware. We are a leader in our field with extensive experience across many industries and countless unique production processes. Collaborating with our team gives you access to all that expertise. We become your partner in pursuing lean manufacturing capabilities.

Our team works with yours to assess the many factors affecting a successful deployment, including:

  • Workflows: We help you identify and analyze tasks with bottlenecks or injury risks due to manual handling. These areas offer the most significant potential return.
  • Space and layout: We work with you to develop a deployment strategy that optimizes your available workspace.
  • Training: We ensure you know how to operate your new systems efficiently, effectively, and safely so you can disseminate that information throughout your organization.
  • Maintenance: We provide information on proactive equipment maintenance so that you can continue to get the maximum benefit from your systems going forward.

Regardless of your previous experience with industrial manipulators, we ensure that your implementation of new systems goes smoothly, delivers the results you desire, and enables you to capture all the benefits of lean manufacturing.

Final Thoughts

Lean manufacturing principles help companies reduce waste, work more efficiently, lower costs, satisfy customers, and have happy, engaged employees. Implementing lift-assist devices, material handling systems, and other industrial manipulators from Dalmec is an excellent way to turn those principles into actions.

Contact us today to discuss your needs and learn how we partner with manufacturers in a wide variety of industries to achieve (and often exceed) their efficiency, productivity, and overall lean manufacturing goals.