Apply a Lean Lens to Your Production Challenges

Apply a Lean Lens to Your Production Challenges

Apply a Lean Lens to Your Production Challenges

Daniel Penn - How to...

How do we align everyone in the company with Lean and continuous improvement strategies? What projects should be tackled first? How can we duckies paddle in the same direction?

by Tony Rodriguez and Mike Beauregard

Your company is growing like a tsunami wave with rubber duckies. While investors expect increased sales in short order, time- and resource-wasting processes and outdated equipment drag down productivity. You’ve added employees, but without orientation, training, and standardized procedures, they’re bobbing around on waves of morale-killing uncertainty.

How do we align everyone in the company with Lean and continuous improvement strategies? What projects should be tackled first? How can we duckies paddle in the same direction?

Daniel Penn Associates (DPA) is helping a large components producer apply a Lean lens to the production challenges that accompany their explosive growth. The company understands that establishing a lean program is a long-term effort.

Here’s how it is evolving.

First Things First

Just as steady parental guidance supports a healthy family, an informed management team provides the direction and engagement to support employee contributions to the company’s success. A lack of understanding of Lean tools and principles limits leadership’s direction. That’s why a true understanding of Lean by management is a prerequisite for creating and sustaining company-wide Lean and Continuous Improvement programs.

Our team began by providing leadership at the manufacturer’s two sites with a workshop orientation on Lean principles, concepts, and tools. The workshop was structured as a two-day training for 17 leadership team members, including the president, vice president of operations, and the two plant managers.

We focused on helping management gain high-level knowledge of Lean tools and understand their role in providing direction and encouragement for the program. Workshop sessions engaged managers through hands-on group exercises to reinforce the many elements of Lean.

  • To understand the current state of a customer’s process, participants created a Value Stream Map.
  • They conducted small team exercises to identify wastes in a process.
  • To identify opportunities to organize the workplace better, they visited a department on the shop floor.
  • To learn new ways to improve the flow of work, they participated in an airplane game simulation with pull and push teams.
  • They conducted Single-minute exchange of dies (SMED) simulations to understand what makes a racing pit stop successful, and how to apply those principles to the company’s operations.
  • To promote consistent understanding across the organization, management created an ‘elevator speech’ to communicate their lean efforts.
  • We outlined a strategy to structure the alignment of business goals to the lean program, which included the development of a lean office, a Steering Committee, the need for a communication and change management plan, and a deployment strategy.

Through these and other exercises and discussions, the management team learned to apply Lean concepts in their daily work, organize for Lean (using tiers and escalation to align on solving problems across different levels of the business), establish a visual factory, understand change management processes, the importance of communication, and the steps to establish a Lean Road Map for the company.

Common Denominators

Every Lean project we advise incorporates these non-negotiable elements:

  • Safety comes first, always.
  • Minimize travel time within the plant, the cell, and the operation.
  • Make it easier to get the work done.
  • Move hands, not feet.
  • Make it sustainable for the long haul.

Selecting Areas of Focus for Kaizen

Preparation for Kaizen (improvement events) is key, like any other project. Without the proper equipment, materials, and staff, we would not initiate a construction or renovation project. Similar efforts must be planned for a Kaizen event. Preparation is key. Team selection and training, establishing a project champion, and establishing a project charter are must-dos. 

Based on a review of opportunities that could (a) have the quickest impact on overall productivity and (b) serve as a model for subsequent improvement events across the company, managers chose three improvement (Kaizen) events.

Actively supported by the DPA team, the company selected Kaizen events that were designed to:

  • Remove uncertainty and standardize its customer contract review and revision process.
  • Reorganize and standardize practices and processes for the tool room – and other plant operations to follow.
  • Improve flow, tools, and skills to boost throughput for a high-demand subassembly.
  • Instill best practices that can be applied across the company’s operations.

Kaizen 1: Fix the Contract Revision Process


The company’s process for customer revision changes did not capture products in stock, work-in-progress, vendor-supplied parts, or expiration dates. Lack of rigor and detail in this process threatened to affect product quality and on-time shipments, increase labor hours, increase the risk of storing or shipping defective or obsolete parts, and put the company at risk for negative audit findings.


DPA worked with the company’s internal team to examine the process in detail. They found that there was no system to formally notify that a revision change had come in from a customer. Contract staff had little understanding of the unique aspects of each large customer’s revision requirements. The process was disconnected, from customer changes to revision review to sales.

Actions Taken

The team flow-charted and identified weak points in the contract revision process for the company’s major clients. They mapped out a revised process and flow chart and identified time savings in key areas. A standard work instruction was developed and rolled out to the workforce.


The new process reduces contract revision time by four hours per revision. With better information and increased communication on revisions, it eliminates the errors that led to internal escapes and late shipments. Best of all, the process can easily manage revisions from an increasing number of large clients who are increasing their orders with the company. The new process is projected to save the company 1,700 hours in downtime annually.

Kaizen 2: Reduce Waste in the Tool Room


Chaos in the company’s tool room affected the entire plant’s manufacturing capacity and equipment. The company estimated that there were, on average, five-tool movement events per day, with an average of 45 minutes of downtime per tool movement. To increase labor time spent on direct machining, the tool room required a complete overhaul – with the establishment of standardized practices and processes.


DPA worked with the company’s tool room Kaizen team to flow-chart the tooling pre-set processes, identify problems with these processes and with the floor layout, and analyze workflow and travel time. They observed congestion, excess parts, no organized storage, damaged racks and cabinets, storage of obsolete tools, no discipline in returning tools or instructions, and no process for signing tools in and out.

Actions Taken

The Kaizen team re-configured the work area to reduce travel distance in the tooling pre-set process. They re-arranged storage racks and labeled them for easy location and identification.

They outlined a location for the return of tooling sets. They discussed new storage options with a cabinet vendor and coordinated with purchasing on pricing. They collected tooling that machinists had hoarded in their toolboxes and machine areas, eliminated unused, obsolete, or damaged tooling and instructions, and brought all tooling together in a central location. They designated an area to place empty tooling carts. From all of this, standard work was created and documented.


These actions allowed the Kaizen team to reduce interference time from the tool room chaos from 45 minutes to zero by:

  • Better utilization of space and workflow.
  • Faster pre-setting of tooling.
  • Prioritizing projects.
  • Establishing a system for keeping track of tooling inventory by location.
  • Collecting the tools from machinists’ toolboxes saved $250K worth of tooling that would have otherwise had to be purchased.

Kaizen 3: Meet Customer Demand for a Key Subassembly


As a result of a 50,000-piece order, the company needed to meet a customer’s 120-unit-per-day requirement for this key subassembly that required heat treating and curing. Their goals: improve flow and layout, improve packaging to protect finished products, and reduce oven curing time.


Supported by DPA consultants, the production area’s Kaizen team observed a lack of standard work protocols, disorganized space, outdated techniques, and processing defects. The product’s packaging did not adequately protect parts during shipments to the customer. Tooling was not ergonomic, tooling techniques were outdated, the workflow was hindered, and standard work was nonexistent.

Actions Taken

To better utilize space, improve workflow, and speed up production from 60 to 120 units per day, the team chose a location, designed a new cell, and created a visual management post depicting the movement of parts and processes. They created new standard work processes, inspection, and audit procedures. They ordered new tables, created space and moved existing equipment, built a tool and supplies cart, installed lighting and fixture tools on benches, and relocated certain assembly processes. They changed the one-hour oven cure time for the adhesive to a 24-hour air cure to reduce defects and planned the layout to accommodate the increased number of parts in that operation overnight. They built a material handling case, established a location for inventory, and designed new protective packaging for the finished product.


The changes have achieved a better flow of material, less handing, standard work, and a robust 5S and visual management system. In a limited trial with prototype parts, the Kaizen team reduced the cycle time to assemble, bond, mark, and inspect parts by 60 percent, which would give them more than the 120 parts per day production capacity that they targeted.

Employees Power It

The Kaizen events DPA supports are successful because the employee teams we work with solve problems and follow through on actions that will continually improve their work. Here’s what some of the Kaizen superstar employees we work with said:

“I learned a lot from the sharing between divisions and met good people.”

“There is a value in the input of multiple people.”

“I was surprised to see how many steps went into that assembly!”

“I’m anxious to see how we apply this process to other areas with Kaizens and share the knowledge.”

DPA continues to support the company’s efforts to embed a lean culture of continuous improvement, coaching their lean leader as they create and sustain new lean activities over the next 18 months. We are all learning together, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Next Steps

As the company continues to grow, it plans more Kaizen events to improve its operations and its ability to meet customer needs. These Kaizen events will be integral to the company in growing its lean program and establishing a culture of continuous improvement, giving the employees the Lean tools they need to continually improve.

Tony Rodriguez is president, and Mike Beauregard is an associate and senior consultant of Daniel Penn Associates, LLC.

Contact Us

Ready to discuss your operational goals and challenges? We’re ready to listen. Give us a call at (860) 232-8577.

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