What does 'Lean' mean in 2013?

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In a challenging economy, a lean approach couldn't be more relevant. But the economy aside, lean simply makes good business sense; creating value for customers while using fewer resources to achieve it. 

As Manufacturing Growth Director, Steve helps businesses to compete, innovate and grow providing advice and support on new product development, intellectual property protection and production process optimisation. His broad career includes MD of £75M multi-site, European medium volume manufacturing company, Director of global sourcing in a $12B US corporation, MD of an off-shore engineering company in India and design and engineering leadership in sectors spanning aircraft to lawn-mowers. He has a PhD and MSc in Aerospace Vehicle Design, Cranfield, BSc Aircraft Engineering, Salford and is a Six Sigma Green Belt.

On my trips around the UK, 'lean' still very much tops the agenda for the majority of manufacturers I visit – and specifically how they can engender a lean culture across their business and marry this with business growth.

Of course, in a challenging economy, a lean approach couldn’t be more relevant. But the economy aside, lean simply makes good business sense; creating value for customers while using fewer resources to achieve it.

There's no doubt that the move to a globalised market over the past two decades has generated both huge pressure and opportunity for UK manufacturers. In this market, fortune has favoured, and continues to favour the brave. The ability to move quickly and respond to changing market conditions has required flexibility and agility; but in a 'do more with less' climate when cash flow itself can stymie flexibility, how can this be realistically achieved?

The very best lean approach creates a strong link between waste reduction and customer service, alongside employee safety and engagement. And it's not just materials that are the lean target. Opportunity cost is impacted as much by time as tools and resources. Waiting, overproduction and processing, space, defects, unnecessary motion, incorrect inventory and transportation should all be on the hit list for improvement.

Think about your own business:

  • Is skill and machine time being wasted with operators waiting for the next batch of sub-components to be delivered?
  • Do you have crates of unused inventory taking up space and representing dead cashflow?
  • Are your forklifts making multiple trips when fewer would do?

The list can be alarmingly long, but element of your business checked for its lean-ness, provide a great opportunity for improved profitability and growth potential.

Engendering a lean culture

At the heart of a good lean business is a culture of continuous improvement and involvement across the entire workforce. Lean needs to come from the top, with business leaders creating an environment for effective problem solving at all levels and developing processes to deal with the 'gaps' unique to their business culture.

Lean management is often most effective as a horizontal flow of authority and evaluation. By making the entire process customer focused and assessing resources at each point, a fully optimised lean approach is achieved.

The far reaching benefits of lean

Not only can a lean approach benefit customer relationships, it can also have an extremely positive effect on morale by creating a cross-discipline team culture and a common goal of improvement; in standards, efficiency and safety.

But knowing where to start is usually the biggest challenge – and this is certainly borne out by those conversations I have weekly with manufacturers across the UK. EEF can help by carrying out an audit and gap analysis to pinpoint the best return for your business, while providing training for your entire workforce to get them on board with your lean aspirations.

Find out more about our lean, process improvement courses.

In our next blog on lean in 2013 we'll examine some of the specific processes and tools you can implement across your business now to streamline your business.



Manufacturing Growth Director

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