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LEAN Automation in the Manufacturing Industry

By implementing the techniques of LEAN manufacturing, you can cut waste and improve your productivity. However, simply knowing the principles of LEAN manufacturing isn’t enough. You must also apply the ideas behind this manufacturing method to fit your facility. The process of implementing LEAN production into your operations may also include automation. Though you will need an initial investment in the equipment, if done properly, you can see a reduction in cost and a rise in profits.

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What Is LEAN Automation?
Purpose of LEAN Automation
Benefits of LEAN Automation in Manufacturing
How to Implement LEAN Automation
Learn How to Better Your Business Through LEAN Consulting

What Is LEAN Automation?

The core of LEAN production is a change in thinking about how you operate. Instead of improving the productivity of individual processes, you must think about the big picture of improving the value your customers get from the products they receive. At the same time, you find ways to cut costs as much as possible.

When integrating automation, you should continue to use the principles of LEAN production, which include cost reductions while boosting customer value. In some cases, fully automating your facility will cost more money.

For instance, one study showed that producing a product on a fully automated line cost $3 per unit. Whereas the line using simpler methods could make the product at $1 per piece. When the requirements for the product changed from the Underwriter Laboratory (UL), the automated line could not compete without spending millions of dollars on changing the equipment.

This cautionary tale should not scare you away from automation. Instead, you should avoid making too many expensive changes at once to maintain your LEAN operations. Keeping LEAN thinking first, though, can ensure that you lower the costs for automation and potentially see up to a 90% reduction in lead time.

Purpose of LEAN Automation

LEAN thinking for automating your facility makes the process possible for even smaller businesses with less spending available than large corporations. If you want to incorporate automation without spending too much, starting with LEAN principles and moving toward gradual automation of your facility can reduce costs and lead times as you increase productivity.

Benefits of LEAN Automation in Manufacturing

When you choose to integrate LEAN automation into your facility, your processes become faster and more efficient. If done correctly, adding automation can bring your company multiple benefits while still adhering to LEAN manufacturing principles.

1. Increase Worker Safety

Worker safety should be paramount throughout the manufacturing industry. By automating dangerous processes, you can keep your employees safer while reducing errors in manufacturing. For instance, an automated storage and retrieval system keeps employees out of danger on a warehouse floor, where forklift accidents and collisions can occur. Using such a system also reduces human errors in picking or storing products.

2. Reduce Lead Times

Another means of using automation to benefit your operation is through automatic conveyors that deliver components to human workers to assemble the parts. People save time because they do not have to walk between stations. The workers can also have less physical discomfort if the parts arrive at their work areas in an ergonomic position for assembly. A manufacturing facility that served as a subsidiary of Volkswagen employed this type of system to keep quality high and cycle times short.

Reduce Lead Times

3. Improve Accuracy

By choosing to automate certain aspects of production, you can more effectively produce larger quantities at lower costs. However, you should not fixate on creating a specific model for your facility. Combining approaches and technologies to blend the best of waste reduction and cost savings with productivity will serve you best while keeping in LEAN practices. For instance, automating assembly processes can help your operation to reduce mistakes in production and the wasted time for reworking.

4. Reduce Costs

Cutting costs is the greatest benefit for LEAN automation and LEAN manufacturing. By wisely using automated systems, you reduce your costs. One way to lower costs without sacrificing worker time in maintaining machinery is through using robots to work alongside human employees. The robots reduce the human effort and the required investment while human workers can maintain a desired level of quality.

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How to Implement LEAN Automation

When it comes to incorporating LEAN automation into your process management, you should not take on the task alone. Consulting companies can help you to tailor the process to the specific needs of your operation. The following steps can help you to decide what automated machinery your operation needs and how to implement it.

1. Look at the Processes

Whether integrating automation or making any other changes to your operations, always put the customers’ needs first. LEAN manufacturing focuses on bringing the greatest value to the customer, so focus your automation efforts on creating what the customer needs.

When designing automated systems, allow for flexibility and alternatives. Locking your facility into single-function automated systems can become costly later if requirements change for the products.

To set up the workflow, spread responsibility evenly among multiple people. You don’t want your whole operation to rest on the functioning of a single machine or person. Your facility needs the ability to adapt to changes including people changing jobs or taking vacations or machinery needing repairs. Spreading human responsibility and machinery tasks out makes your operation more capable of weathering changes.

Even as you allow for alternative options as backup methods to use in emergencies, create a routine that your facility can use that improves productivity and reduces waste.

2. Examine Your People

The people who create the automation process at your facility are critical. Identify people with knowledge, experience, and expertise who can help you through the process. These people may include outside consultants.

As you make changes, keep communications open with your workers and create a culture of excellence. For instance, you want your workers to feel that they are vital parts of your facility’s changes. When your workers provide input, they can also help to improve efficiency as they continue to educate themselves on working better in a new automated facility.

3. Consider Tools and Technology

The tools and technology that you use should work well with the people you have. Automation should support your employees’ work rather than the other way around. By using automation as a means of improving operations instead of focusing your plant on supporting the new machinery, you can achieve greater productivity with less cost.

Another tool to consider when implementing LEAN automation is training. Educate your workers on how they can best use automated machinery to improve their jobs. The training should include teaching your employees new routines to follow for less wasted time and better product quality.

By using these strategies to help your operation plan its transition to LEAN automation, you can make the move less costly and take advantage of the increased productivity it brings.

Contact a MANTEC specialty advisor

Learn How to Better Your Business Through LEAN Consulting

To fully integrate LEAN production into your manufacturing plant, you could use help. Our experts with MANTEC offer the best resources for manufacturing companies looking to gain an edge. Our service-oriented experts help your business by using their years of experience to guide you through the changes your company needs to make. For more information, call 717-843-5054 or learn about our LEAN consulting services at MANTEC.

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