Guest post written by Dr. Werner Smekal, a technical consultant with many years of expertise in production, change management and supply chain management.
In a modern production facility, the implementation of lean production processes is far beyond a trend; proven over decades to improve productivity and quality, lean methods are setting the standard for manufacturing today. Lean transformation is often perceived as a daunting project – people think it requires a complete change to the entire production system all at once, accompanied by a massive IT implementation. Especially for smaller companies this approach is actually quite likely to fail or simply doesn’t lead to the desired results. But there is an alternative to diving into the deep end.
Dipping your toes into lean production
It’s possible to implement lean principles slowly, getting the transformation process started and gradually introducing personnel to the many novel ideas. One common problem, though, is that the production department usually doesn’t have their own IT staff and support from the IT department is usually limited. Even though digital processes are, strictly speaking, not necessary for lean transformation, they can make a significant contribution to a successful change process.
So how do you create IT systems without substantial IT support? Low-code development tools might be the solution; they allow persons with some IT knowledge but no training in software programming (like staff members from the production planning department) to create apps tailored to their specific needs, as well as to maintain these apps in an ever-changing production environment.
One easy to implement lean principle is the 5S method applied to a workplace. 5S stands for:
- Sort – only keep tools you need to get the work done
- Set in order – arrange work items to optimize processes
- Shine – clean and tidy up the workplace
- Standardize – document all that was done
- Sustain – keep an eye on what you have achieved here
Usually the first four steps are finished successfully with all participants enthusiastically supporting these actions. But the transition still fails since the last step is skipped – sustain what was accomplished.
Building a 5S audit app in minutes
A common way to implement the last step are regular audits of the workplaces. Here digital processes show their full power. While paper checklists are an option, it is cumbersome to evaluate these checklists and to report the results to the team. Here we present a simple low-code app built using VisionX, which allows you to complete the checklist on your mobile phone or tablet, or on your desktop PC via a web browser during or after the audit. Summary reports are automatically generated and can be sent via email or shown on dashboards, so that actions can be swiftly taken if the audit scores don’t meet the predefined limits.
We create a new app called “5S Audit” and set up three different masks:
First the Auditors and the Workplaces masks are created and then the Assessments mask is made, linking to the first two With VisionX this is done in just a matter of minutes:
In the Auditors mask all the personnel who conduct audits are entered. All workplaces which need to be audited are going to be entered in the Workplaces mask.
All these masks are created via point and click operations, and with one design you have created an app for multiple platforms like tablet and mobile phones as well.
Sink or swim: your first audits
Now it’s time for the auditors to regularly visit the workplaces (this could be actually done daily) and rate them on a 1 to 5 scale for every “S”. The frequency of the audits might be higher at the start, since lean production is accompanied by a need of mindset change and this might take some time to develop.
To audit the workplaces using an app with this form is actually very low profile. This is important: first because what you want to prevent is muda (non-value, waste) and establishing an audit system which is complicated and burns the time and productivity of the employees is counter-productive; and second, if something is easy to do and makes sense, it will be done.
The implementation of the 5S audit system will be successful if there are also consequences for bad ratings. Usually you define a minimum for the seven-day mean of all ratings. You can use the report feature of VisionX to calculate this value and show all audits from the last seven days. If the mean of the ratings is below the limit, a possible consequence could be to stop production, gather all personnel and talk about the problem and potential solutions.
Lean transformation is much easier and faster when supported by appropriate IT systems. Low-code application development is a viable solution for manufacturing departments to implement new processes quickly in the face of tight budgets and scarce IT resources. Solutions like VisionX make it easy to implement new processes and to adapt them to your constantly changing environment.
Ready to reshape your manufacturing processes? Get a demo and find out how low code development can help you ease into the transformation.
Dr. Werner Smekal is an independent technical and management consultant with many years of experience in the semi-conductor industry. He advises manufacturing companies, helping them to improve production, research & development, engineering and supply chain management.