The central focus of lean manufacturing principles is the elimination of waste. The primary activity is of course to at first to be able to recognize waste within your business. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a complex process it may not entirely clear to begin with without knowing what to look for.

With its initial incarnation within the Toyota production system, one of the most common tools utilized within Lean is one that helps identify waste – this tool is called the seven wastes. These wastes can be universally applied to businesses irrespective of whether they are manufacturing or service organizations.

The seven wastes are as follows

• Unnecessary transportation
• Over-processing
• Motion
• Inventory
• Waiting
• Defects
• Overproduction

Simply knowing what the catagories are, however, is not enough – understanding some common examples and how each waste can be interpreted can benefit you in better understanding the efficiency your organizations processes. So lets take a look at each waste in a little more detail.

Unnecessary Transportation

This waste refers to any unnecessary transportation, such as that commonly associated with the transit of materials or parts. Transportation is not a value add activity as it does not help transform the product into the customer requirement and can add further problems through delays, damage or items being lost.

Unnecessary Processing

Over processing is typified by carrying out more work on a product than is required – this might be using more precision tools than are required through to, in the example of office activity, bureaucratic approval systems for documents requiring multiple signatories or reviews. Removing over processing requires careful consideration to ascertain the actual requirement and ensuring that the process is engineered to meet this without any further burden.

Unnecessary Motion

An effective working environment can help reduce motion for a given process. This may entail providing tools and equipment at point of use or making material handling processes more efficient. A common tool used to analyze motion is the spaghetti diagram which can be very effective at highlighting issues.

Inventory

Any parts or materials that are not immediately required are considered waste – inventory is one of the seven wastes that is most easy to spot in that it is easy to physically see around the business. Inventory is waste as it ties up resources to manage it for example storage space, personnel, capital outlay and processing.

Waiting Time

Waiting time is very common – take a look at your business are parts stacked up waiting for the next part of the assembly process? Are office in-tray’s piled high with documents waiting to be processed? A number of causes can result in waiting – often with product batch sizes being a primary trigger.

Defects

Getting it wrong results in waste – whether that’s manufacturing faulty parts that require rework or at worst being scrapped or documents that are incorrectly completed which can result in confusion or mistakes. Defects have a very real impact on the bottom line of your business and can be one of the key contributors to inefficiency.

Overproduction

Producing more of something than is required by the customer is waste – close attention to batch sizes and change over times can be imperative in not over producing. The impact of overproducing can be considerable – not only is extra-material consumed but extra processing and storage requirements add to the problem causing another of the seven wastes – inventory.

Summary

Reducing waste is a key task in becoming an efficient organization – the seven wastes tool can be a significant asset in understanding organizational inefficiencies. Whilst the tool itself will not improve your business – understanding where waste occurs and developing suitable improvement plans will – the seven wastes has the advantage that it is uncomplicated and easy to communicate to the workforce – operators can be rapidly trained to identify waste within their processes and with this knowledge participate in any associated improvement activity.

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