Today’s food and beverage manufacturing businesses are in overdrive, especially in light of demand shifts and supply chain shortages caused by COVID-19. Factories must work at an unprecedented scale—and quickly—to keep customers satisfied and remain profitable. So many operations introduce new ways to be productive and efficient, often on the fly.
Continuous improvement tools—paired with the latest technology solutions—are invaluable in lean manufacturing, and are designed to make your factory the best it can be. Trust these strategies to align your goals, improve productivity, reduce errors, meet demand, and maximize your profitability.
3 Top Continuous Improvement Tools
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to continuous improvement in lean manufacturing, but there are many time-tested tools to help make your organization its best. Three of our favorites are Catchball, Gemba Walks, and Hoshin Kanri.
Catchball is based on a simple premise: The more individuals who tackle a problem, the better the solution will be. Catchball formalizes this shared responsibility without complicating matters by having too many people working at once.
When a continuous improvement project is started, those involved create a clear blueprint, complete with background information, pain points, objectives, and metrics. Because it is so comprehensive and easily understood, the blueprint serves as instructions for anyone involved throughout the project pipeline, and it can be transferred from leader to leader until it is complete—the same way you would pass a ball in sports.
Here, the project—and its corresponding needs and instructions—gets passed to the best team to move it forward at a given stage. The goal is to move projects through to completion by always handing them to the most qualified team next, preventing the lag time that would otherwise happen if the project wound up in inexperienced hands.
“The real place.” That’s what “gemba” means in Japanese. In practice, Gemba Walks give managers a real picture of their operations. It sounds fancy, but it’s really just a strategy in which managers and supervisors travel to plants with one goal in mind: to observe their operations and find opportunities for improvement.
These walkthroughs bring workers and supervisors together, fostering face-to-face interaction with the experts who run the daily factory operations. And it opens the door to new perspectives for people who have become accustomed to set strategies. By finding and responding to various inefficiencies with new methods, you can limit your capital loss over time.
However, you can’t go into Gemba Walks halfheartedly; they need a plan behind them. To make these walkthroughs effective as continuous improvement tools, scatter your activities. Visit the plant on different days of the week, during different hours. No two days or shifts are alike, after all, and worker behavior changes, so the scatter approach presents a more accurate picture.
It is also important to let your factory workers take the lead, rather than stepping in with complex questions and comments. Leave your assumptions behind, and you’ll receive honest and accurate information from the team, fostering better relations and innovation.
We borrow another moniker from the Japanese—Hoshin Kanri, which loosely translates to “strategy deployment” or “direction management”—to guide continuous improvement on the factory floor. Hoshin Kanri is a formalized system of company alignment, with the goal of long-term success. The strategy relies on four principles:
- The whole organization must buy into a few well-defined goals.
- Objectives and strategies must be well communicated and universal throughout the company.
- Leadership must actively participate in fostering and creating improved processes.
- Lower-level employees must also embrace and work toward company objectives.
Hoshin Kanri and its associated principles aren't as strict as they seem. The guideposts are meant to foster creativity and communication throughout the hierarchy of your company, setting issues of seniority aside.
Embrace Continuous Improvement and the Smart Factory
By using continuous improvement tools and techniques, companies position themselves for change. With open minds, you’re better able to see the benefits of new initiatives like Smart Factory analytics. At Worximity, we know that a full-organization structure is necessary to get the most out of our products, and we want to give our customers the best resources possible to maximize profitability. There are many continuous improvement tools at your disposal to maximize operational success.
Download our Smart Factory Analytics E-book to learn more and start your Industry 4.0 transformation.