War on waste: Observations from the shop floor to top floor

By Richard Kunst   

Industry Production Manufacturing 5S Kaizen Kanban Lean manufacturing production Waste

Identifying waste is easy, the challenge lies in engaging everyone to apply the tools

Implement kanban (inventory control) systems. PHOTO: FOTOLIA

You don’t have to look too far to identify streams of waste that include: excess motion of employees or equipment; defective material; employees or equipment waiting; excess inventory; over-production; over-processing; and transportation of material from one location to another.

How do we eliminate such waste? Implementing lean principles and training will help you get to the root causes of problems.

Training should involve the senior executive team; sales force; and finance, purchasing, production, maintenance, engineering and logistics teams, who will look at the underlying structure of the business systems and processes. Note every item produced and its specific routing or sequence of process steps. There are likely hundreds of iterations or sequences that need to be organized into a more ordered group of part families.

The value stream engineer develops a map, both current- and future-state, and kaizen events or areas of opportunity are identified to help accomplish goals.


Most of them will likely centre around meeting promise dates, improving quality, increasing capacity, improving productivity, reducing cost and occupying less floor space.

The goals for each area are displayed and prioritized. A good way to start is a kaizen event leading to a trophy area that stands as an example of what lean can achieve. Set dates and identify individuals who should be invited to attend the events.

Once value streams are identified, defined, set up and the first group of kaizen events are carried out, you’ll realize how to use other lean tools that facilitate a variety of other large and small lean improvements, across the business.

Implement 5S, point-of-use storage, kaizen, standardized work, kanbans and cellular/flow improvements.

Let teams develop shadow boards for housekeeping supplies; label and organize racking stations; and move operating supplies and inspection tools to the point of use.

Lean tools

Add visual controls and kanbans so replenishment of racks, clamps, rags, personal protective equipment and chemicals is completed automatically through a timed delivery route. Work is staged on carts and identified with flags. A cone on each cart shows the conclusion of that order. Mix is scheduled to optimize the process capacity and the work is delivered with everything the operator needs.

Auditing and driving continuous improvement is probably the most difficult part of the process, but it helps maintain the momentum to develop a culture and sustain lean. These tools will aid in this effort:

Employee engagement. Each team member has a goal to submit 12 waste stoppers per year (one per month). This is the basis for small or larger kaizen improvements. It’s easy to measure and great incentives are tied to meeting goals.

Standardized work. A standardized checklist for leaders, managers and engineers helps audit improvements and processes, and requires data and/or numbers to be logged rather than just checked off as complete.

Incentives. Make them creative and used for performance, ideas and participation.

New hires. The foundation of any culture is people. Can temporary or staffing agencies select new employees better than you? Doubtful!

Culture of change. Employees must embrace change, because the status quo is the opposite of continuous improvement. That requires open communication. If team members are afraid to voice their opinions and concerns, growth is stifled, making it difficult to improve.

Measuring. Change and improvement is very difficult without measurement.

Keep the surgeon at the table. Anything that takes the operator away from his or her workstation should be analyzed and, if possible, delivered at the time it’s needed.

Implementing lean takes time, energy and money. It’s a challenging process but the improvements that follow are worth the investment.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp., which helps companies become more agile, develop evolutionary management and implement lean solutions. Visit E-mail

This article originally appeared in the November-December print version of PLANT magazine.


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