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Lean Manufacturing for Packaging Operations - The Key To Breakthrough Performance?

PHOENIX, August 7, 2012 () – Lean and Six Sigma concepts have been around long before they were called Lean and Six Sigma. For the last decade Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma have been touted as the Gold Standard for world class business improvement.

Lean Manufacturing is the general term used by many to refer to the tools and methodologies that Toyota used to go from a small insignificant car manufacturer in a small country (Japan) to being the global leader in automobile safety, quality, reliability and sales.

In the early years they were not known for any of these things but by embracing a number of business improvement concepts they made dramatic continuous improvements year after year in their quest to be the best. Toyota and Lexus (the luxury division of Toyota) are now synonymous with the best made cars you can buy.

What does this have to do with packaging? Nothing…and everything. I have been a part of two of the most significant box plant turnarounds of the last 30 years in the corrugated industry with year over year profit improvements of $3.2 million USD and $4 million USD respectively. The industry has only had a handful of turnarounds of this scale since corrugated was invented in the 1800’s and I was instrumental in two of them.

The first one was when I worked for Gaylord Container in the early 90’s and the most recent was when I was a General Manager for Temple-Inland. With Gaylord we took a plant that was losing money to winning the “Best Performing Plant” Award out of 26 plants for four consecutive years out of the six years that I worked there. We profited over $5 million one year. We were also the runner up for the Governors “Pioneer Award” For Quality against stiff competition such as General Electric, Motorola, Boeing, Honeywell and more.

At Temple-Inland I was asked to turnaround a plant that was in consideration for closure due to poor safety, quality, productivity, housekeeping, turnover, morale and losing money. As General Manager I led a great team to one of the top financial turnarounds in Temple-Inland history and won the “Best Achievement of Organizational Business Improvement in Manufacturing” award in 2009. We are the only packaging company to ever win the coveted international award given by the Global Six Sigma and Business Improvement Awards based in the UK.

These two amazing accomplishments were not a coincidence. They were systematic and many of the Lean Manufacturing concepts were at the core of both of these turnarounds. When we implemented these in the early 90’s these tools were knows by different names and came from many different sources including W. E. Deming, Joseph Juran, Walter Shewhart, Henry Ford, Kaoru Ishikawa, Shigeo Shingo and more. These are the same concepts that Toyota used in their Toyota Production System that eventually evolved and became known as Lean Manufacturing. Now you just fill in the blank: Lean _______________ (office, distribution, sales, maintenance, service, engineering, etc.).

The two examples listed above are only a few of many dramatic improvements achieved by manufacturers and distributors of pulp, paper, corrugated, folding cartons, film, foil, plastics, metal and glass packaging that have been attributed to the same Lean tools.

OK, enough about the results…let’s talk about the tools. Lean refers to the elimination of excess. Just as when our bodies get lean, it means that we have shed our excess fat; a company becomes lean by elimination of waste. Before I lose you, you need to understand that waste doesn’t just mean bad product or materials. Lean has identified 7 forms of waste or ‘muda’ and some companies add an 8th as well. A strong understanding of these various forms of waste are instrumental to being able to eliminate them. Eliminating them delivers faster order processing time, better on-time-delivery, better sales growth, higher quality, increased productivity, better safety, better maintenance and most of all more profit. Money is at the heart of it all. Money is the ‘language’ of business. If you don’t make money you get sold or you shut down. If you are running a plant, department or machine that has declining performance you get fired (and rightfully so). The 8 wastes associated with lean are as follows:

• Transport (moving parts or products that are not immediately required for processing)
• Inventory (all raw materials, parts, supplies, work-in-process and finished goods not currently being processed or delivered to the customer)
• Motion (people or equipment having to walk, reach or move more than absolutely necessary)
• Waiting (waiting for the next production step)
• Overproduction (production ahead of immediate demand)
• Over Processing (resulting from improper tooling or design)
• Defects (including the effort involved in identifying, correcting, reviewing and disposal of defective product, tooling, materials, parts, etc.)
• Waste of Human Capital (not properly utilizing the ideas and talents of each employee to its highest and most suitable purpose)

There are many forms of waste that fit into these categories that most people don’t generally regard as waste when they truly are waste. Some common examples include: checking, reviewing, verifying, sorting, looking up, printing, copying, analyzing, correcting, data entry, and many more.

The most common Lean Tools used to eliminate the 8 wastes are as follows:

• Value Stream Mapping

• 5S (some companies include a 6th S for Safety)

• Kanban (using a pull system instead of a push system)

• Poka-Yoke (mistake-proofing)

• SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies)

• Visual Factory

• Total Productive Maintenance

Value Stream Mapping refers to the identification of all process steps and evaluating them to determine if they add value to the customer (including products/services sold to the customer). 5S originally referred to 5 Japanese concepts that all begin with the S sound. They have been translated into words of similar meaning in English all beginning with S. The 5S process refers to eliminating all parts, materials, waste, etc. that are not needed.

Sorting is done through the use of a Red Tag system. Once this is done the needed parts and materials are classified into different subcategories based on how frequently they are needed, the quantities that are needed, the urgency of the need, etc. Once this has been done all materials and tooling that are needed for production are placed as near as possible to the actual point of use to eliminate, walking, reaching and other wasted effort. In addition all tools and tooling are evaluated to ensure that the best and fastest method is being used.

- Stabilize refers to everything having its place. If you use tools they should be within easy reach and visually identifiable. The use of ‘shadow boards’ or labeled foam inserts for drawers are good examples of this. You need to know instantly where the tool, part, material or supply is and be able to get it without thinking, looking, sorting, walking, etc.

- Shine refers to having a clean an organized workspace. You can tell within the first two minutes of walking into a manufacturing plant how well they run. If the plant is a mess the plant can’t run well or be safe. If machines are dirty they require more maintenance and adjustment. If people are required to wear steel toed shoes, safety glasses, ear plugs, etc. and are not the plant is not running well. Why? Because if you can’t manage the blatantly obvious, there is no chance that you can be properly managing complex processes.

- Standardize refers to the standardization of all of the processes. In many cases the ‘people’ are not the problem, it is the ‘process’ that is the problem. Best Practices for every function need to be determined and then EVERYBODY must ALWAYS follow the process. If you have a machine operator on one shift adjusting the set-up on the machine at shift change when the machine was already running good product because he has “his/her” way of doing things you have a serious problem. There must be ONLY one way. Figure out the “BEST” way and make everyone follow it.

- Sustain refers to making it a process and not a program. A program has a beginning and an end while a process is ongoing. You can’t let it slip after you implement the 5S or you will end up no better off than you were before. This is the biggest reason for Lean performance failure is the failure to plan and engineer it into the process so people don’t have a choice.

Kanban refers to using a pull system to control process flow instead of a push system. As each part is used the next one is there waiting when you need it--not before or after you need it. Minimum quantities must be used. In many cases you can eliminate more than 80% of your inventory by using these concepts. Inventory costs money and should be eliminated.

Poke-Yoke refers to mistake proofing a process. An easy example that most of you can relate to is the lever on your lawn mower that you must hold down in order to start and run the mower. This is a way of mistake proofing your lawn mower to eliminate injuries from people clearing out a clog in the bag with the blade spinning. Many fingers have been lost due to this careless act and so the lawn mower manufacturers designed the machine to be mistake-proof.

SMED stands for Single Minute Exchange of Dies and refers to machine set-up. Set-ups are a combination of an internal set-up and an external one. By making as much of the process external as possible and pre-setting it up prior to the order you dramatically reduce set-up times. For example having printing plates premounded, using counter plates on platen diecutters or using a set-up computer to store and automatically set-up a machine. For converting operations you can have tooling and materials for the next order all ready at the machine as the previous order completes. These are all examples of SMED.

Visual Factory refers to having all work instructions, quality standards, machine speeds, performance and other important information immediately visually available. A visual graph or guide takes much less time to use than a manual that you have to read or look up information in.

Total Productive Maintenance refers to properly defining the maintenance activities and using visual standards and standardized processes. In addition it refers to planning maintenance activities as opposed to ‘fix the machine if it breaks’. It also focuses on the differences between corrective maintenance, preventive maintenance and predictive maintenance to eliminate costs and downtime due to machine reliability failure.

Randy “Dr. Box” Phares is the Paper Packaging Expert for Industry Intelligence and President of Dr. Box Consulting, Packaging Recruiters and the Paperboard Packaging Group (over 10,000 members worldwide). For all of your training and business improvement consulting needs you need to call the Dr., the Dr. is in

For more information on Lean Manufacturing for Packaging Professionals please click on the following link:

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