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YOU ARE HERE: Core Lean Sheet Metal Manufacturing Concepts
Many small to midsize manufacturers have struggled to embrace lean manufacturing because their product mix is high and their volumes are comparatively low. This is especially true in contract metal fabrication applications, where every job is usually different. Because lean was developed in mass production manufacturing environments, some tweaks are required to repurpose lean principals in such a way that they work well within a job-shop manufacturing scenario. Weldrite Manufacturing, a San Diego based metal fabricator that supports the energy, defense and transportation industries has successfully bridged this gap. The following is a brief overview of how they did it.
At its core, lean manufacturing is about engaging the creativity of people in continuously reducing waste and improving customer satisfaction. This mentality produces powerful results in any business, whether it be a sheet metal fabricator, and car manufacturer, or a professional services business. It’s important to understand that, lean is not simply about one piece flow, cellular manufacturing, takt time and cycle time line balancing and kanban systems. Weldrite has employed all of these concepts in different ways within its operational model, and these concepts play important role in setting the pace of work, exposing problems and driving down costs associated with inventories and delays, however, there are other highly critical lean practices that are even more fundamental and can easily apply both in mass production and job shop scenarios. They are as follows:
Maximize Employee Engagement. This is really a basic condition for any lean and continuous improvement system. Without maximum engagement of people and their creative ideas, you can’t call it lean.
Walk the Walk with 5S. Any workplace can benefit from getting rid of unnecessary items, putting everything needed in its proper place and setting and maintaining a high level of cleanliness. It cant just be a flavor of the month, though. The management needs to be committed to 5S and practice it just as much as anyone in the manufacturing area.
Visual management is enabled by good 5S as well as the placement of simple visual tools to identify target, actual and a root cause analysis of any gap between those two. It is important to note that “management” is half or more of visual management. It requires the behavior of leadership at all levels to go see the situation on the production floor in order to address the problems that have been surfaced.
Empower Practical Problem Solving. The practical problem solving process is the glue that brings various lean tools together, brings people together in teams and engages them in thinking about their work and how to improve it.
Relentlessly Reduce Setup and Changeover Times. Most batch processes are in batch mode rather than small lot or one piece flow due to changeover times that are long in comparison with run times for one piece. Reducing changeover times can reduce batch sizes (and lower inventories) as well as increase capacity.
Error-Proof Everything. Within any of the countermeasures or improvement activities above, there are opportunities to error-proof the process. This can be as simple as manual process in which people set off alarms (andon) when they note a problem, or can include physical modifications to equipment or tooling so that incorrect installation is difficult or impossible.
The successful deployment of these basic concepts are extremely evident in all aspect Weldrite’s sheet metal manufacturing operations, from job-order processing, to manufacturing, to shipping. Our firm belief is that even though our work mix may not match that of the well-known leaders in lean manufacturing, such as Toyota or Caterpillar, we can still apply the core lean fundamentals to effect powerful, positive change at Weldrite Manufacturing, not to be the biggest, but to be the best manufacturer in our industry.
For more information, please contact Jeff Glover at 760-743-4041.