Lean manufacturing in the UK

Posted on 13 Apr 2015 by The Manufacturer

Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Keith Findlay – from manufacturing execution systems (MES) specialist, Cimlogic – explores the importance of sharing your continuous improvement successes.

Recently I wrote a white paper on lean manufacturing which looked at incorporating MES solutions to enhance your existing lean initiative.

While researching for references on the topic, I noticed I could only find American examples of lean implementation. Considering the UK manufacturing industry is overflowing with lean solutions and initiatives, isn’t it odd that none of these great examples are publicised?

It’s almost as if we are too ‘British’ to promote our own achievements or too ‘protective’ about sharing our implementation experiences. I’m a great believer that by sharing our experiences and implementations, we can gather more momentum and gain greater achievements in a shorter period of time.

But, perhaps one of the reasons for the lack of searchable literature is down to the fact that many businesses only go so far as to invest (albeit modestly) in their lean programme and not in the external promotion of it.

MES Production Line Cimlogic
UK manufacturing is overflowing with lean solutions and initiatives.

Experience has taught me that investment in lean is limited, and not something that’s widely endorsed within UK manufacturing.

The big players in lean are the Japanese and American firms that have UK interests. These companies have a certain ethos, they foster the development of continuous improvement and see it as a strategic part of their company’s business plan.

For British manufacturers, lean programmes need to have true buy-in from the top and not just a ‘token-gesture’ agreement because ‘it’s the way forward’.

There are two inhibitors to implementing a decent lean programme – funding and effort. If you can agree that both are required and available, then you will do well.

Lean is a multi-pronged approach and covers every department within any business. From production to HR, from planning and logistics to R&D/NPD, IT Departments to laboratories. No area should be ignored or not allowed to participate.

However, people are often ‘given’ the task of being the sole lean implementer, all effort is exclusively theirs, and sadly, any failings that prevail are also down to them. Instead, this approach of being a lean champion should be an accolade and time within your normal role should be afforded.

So, where do you start? Most start with initiatives such as 5S and Kaizen on the shop floor and after a while, sometimes years after, transfer that to the office environment.

Lean Journey Cimlogic
When it comes to lean, don’t run before you can walk.

While neither of these is wrong, consideration should be given to the ‘one in, all in’ approach. You will gain more momentum if the implementation is wide-spread and not focused on one area in isolation.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a Centre of Excellence, just have one in each area – something to be proud of and show off to the other departments.

The moral here: Don’t run before you can walk and consider the education and ability to absorb the new methods as you apply each practice.

Think of the practicalities of introducing lean practices, like Six Sigma, where an alternative problem solving method could be utilised, or having everyone generate Kaizen burst without having the investment to carry out the suggestions, or even the man-power.

Do one thing, do it right and promote it around the business, not just internally.

Share your successes and experiences, and allow other British manufacturers to follow in your lean footsteps. Let people know you are lean champions!