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Lean In Process Manufacturing

Process Manufacturing – Different Challenges, but No Barriers for Lean

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Process manufacturing encompasses a huge range of industries, from Minerals Processsing to Food Manufacturing and from Speciality Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals to Building Products. Despite the differences between these operations and traditional discrete manufacturing, TXM has assisted many process manufacturers to apply lean. Success requires some modifications and some special lean tools. There are two types of process manufacturing, continuous process and batch process.

Applying Lean to Continuous Process Manufacturing

Continuous process generally involves a continuous flow of feedstock being converted in to finished goods. Examples of continuous flow include steel making, manufacture of fibre insulation and petrochemicals. The key point about continuous processing is that the processes are connected and that there is already effective “one piece flow” The focus in these environments is keeping the flow going. Therefore a focus on TPM and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) usually pays dividends. Engaging maintenance to improve OEE can be challenging, but pays off in these processes. Use of 5S and visual management provide a good basis for the stability required.

Refinery Maintenance Workers Carry Out a 5S Audit

Improvement will come from problem solving using simple root cause analysis as well as more advanced techniques such as statistical process control and process capability studies. This explains the popularity of Six Sigma in these industries. Variation is the main source of waste in continuous processing and reducing it pays large dividends.

Lean in Batch Process Manufacturing

Examples of batch processes include paint manufacture, most food processing and pharmaceuticals. The start point for improvement will be a value stream map to understand the causes of waste and lead-time. Simple pull systems can be very effective in ensuring that the right materials are in the right place at the right time. Techniques such as first in first out lanes (see below) can ensure that the number of batches in progress is tightly controlled. Metrics are important. Measuring output in kilograms or litres may lead to increased batch sizes and increased inventory. The number of batches is often the key driver of activity and labour. Measuring and managing the number of batches in a process rather than raw output will lead to better flow, less inventory and higher productivity. Developing a regular planning cycle with a short interval (e.g weekly) for high volume (A Items) will reduce inventory and shortages and improve on-time delivery. Achieving this will require set up time reduction. However running a regular “every part every interval” cycle that follows a “logical” product sequence (e.g. running all the SKU variations before the base product or pack size is changed) can reduce set up time and enable quite short planning cycles to be run efficiently.

Simple Reorder Point Kanban used for Paint Ingredients

TXM has extensive experience in applying lean across a wide range of process industries, including food, beverages, paint, mineral processing and building products. If you want to share our experience

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