Yesterday I spoke with a production manager (on background) with a not-so-uncommon challenge. He had been brushing up on the basics of continuous improvement, including lean manufacturing methodologies adapted for the high-mix, low-volume environment.
All the talk of efficient part flow, shorter lead-times, and less inventory seemed great in theory. And the shop has made some initial steps. He had worked to reduce batch sizes to combat the large pile of work-in-process building up around the press brakes, a common bottleneck. The fabricator also revamped its material ordering to ensure raw stock for a job arrives a day or so before when needed, not a week or more.
But the fabricator had yet to launch a formal improvement effort. The shop is busy, to be sure, and managers expect the shop to be even busier next year. But this isn’t a reason not to launch a lean initiative. Indeed, improvement initiatives may make life easier. The shop performs numerous one-off jobs--a subassembly of, say, 10 or so components. All too often, jobs arrive at the assembly department incomplete, with one piece missing. Further improvement efforts may clear WIP, ease flow, and make it much less likely to lose a critical piece during an upstream process, like at laser cutting or punching.