Read Time: 4 Minutes, 30 Seconds
In the contract manufacturing industry, OEM clients are becoming more demanding, markets are now more customized, and product life cycles are getting shorter. In response, a lot of contract manufacturers are turning to lean principles to remain competitive. Lean thinking is about removing waste in the organization to generate real, tangible benefits for the customer. No longer an optional methodology, lean manufacturing is now an essential component to keeping up with the changes in the contract manufacturing industry.
While the benefits are many, they will not be realized unless lean methodology is woven into the culture. Fusion OEM adopted this holistic approach through a series of trainings and team development initiatives with the help of the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC). Lean 101 training is a program available from IMEC that teaches the effectiveness of Lean concepts. During the session, IMEC brings in materials and demonstrates how to evaluate processes and make them more efficient through the application of Lean principles such as one-piece flow, visual pull systems, line balancing and more. We periodically run this program for our entire workforce to introduce Lean thinking to new employees, refresh the principles for veterans, and to reinforce our emphasis on having a company culture of Lean thinking. This applies to every function and department in the company – from the production floor to the front office.
We intentionally took this approach over having a dedicated person (a “Lean Cop”) or team for our Lean initiatives for the following reasons:
- Increased Employee Feedback. Within a lean manufacturing culture, our employees have an in-depth understanding of how their work affects both internal and external customers, including how the two are ultimately connected. Additionally, they are empowered to identify issues, raise concerns and make suggestions regarding quality and efficiency. Not only does a lean culture foster a habit of continual feedback, but it equally encourages employees to get involved in making a solution happen – whether that’s in the conference room or on the production floor.
- Team Collaboration. In a lean organization, all employees have more opportunities for teamwork and cross-company collaboration. This isn’t just for process improvements, but also for day-to-day routines and client services.
Because a lean culture breaks down barriers between different functions of our contract manufacturing company, our employees communicate and collaborate across departmental boundaries to make processes more efficient. As a result, they have more diverse skillsets, reducing our training costs and ensuring our business processes flow smoothly.
- Training and Development Opportunities. With everyone focused on thinking Lean, we are able to streamline tasks with our employees and increase the efficiency, clarity and trainability of their work. In addition, clear ISO-based lean procedures help employees identify deviant opportunities for improvement and effectively address them. This increases efficiency, boosts productivity and increases our profitability.
Furthermore, since every employee in a lean culture is challenged to make processes more efficient, we have more opportunities to train and develop future leaders and high-performing individuals. This higher level of engagement with new projects and methods means more employees are ready to take on leadership positions in the future.
Without a sustainable lean culture, your continuous improvement efforts ultimately grind to a halt. Why? Because without employee-driven, culture-based decision making, old and inefficient working habits eventually resurface. Also, if your employees aren’t constantly looking to improve, your processes fall victim to waste. IMEC President, Dave Boulay, agrees. “Lean has three requirements –tools, governance, and leadership. Companies that have all three are guaranteed to succeed. Without governance, lean initiatives only happen when leaders are present and not as deeply as it could. With only tools, learning is a one-time event. Without leadership, there is no direction. You need all three,” Boulay states.
Lean manufacturing isn’t just an initiative for one area or department of your contract manufacturer or OEM company. Rather, it’s a management philosophy that you should use across every part of your business. By implementing a lean approach company-wide, every employee benefits from the camaraderie and solidarity of a team-based mindset. For Fusion OEM, lean training with IMEC was more than a one-time process improvement - it marked a shift in our company culture. According to Boulay, this is ideal. “With lean, continuous improvement happens every single day and the body of work is significant. If it’s a matter of one person driving improvement, the culture will die.”