Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) stand to gain both financially and in productivity by adopting lean manufacturing practices. The steps necessary to reach this goal are not as complicated as they may seem. The Lean Enterprise Institute explained that the whole idea behind lean practices is to maximize value for the customer while minimizing waste. This includes everything from physical waste to excessive use of resources like labor, materials and time.

The first step toward lean manufacturing is to take a close look at current processes. Before any adjustments and improvements can be made, a clear picture of the factory floor is needed to assess problem areas and to see what is already working well. There are many angles from which companies can approach this task, including these essential steps:

Bottleneck analysis
Take a close look at the entire production process and look for procedures that could be taking longer than necessary. LeanProduction.com reported that this behavior can slow down overall operations, as previous steps will pile up and those taking place after the bottleneck will slow to a trickle. Once you've pinpointed these problem areas, you can come up with alternative solutions to find a more efficient process.

Root cause analysis
Finding problems and developing workarounds is not all you can do to improve operations. Having an understanding of why things are not working as well as they could is a great way to avoid repeating mistakes, and this is where root cause analysis comes in. Like the name suggests, the technique helps you to determine what is causing an issue in your operations in the first place. Mind Tools suggested you first figure out what is going wrong, then look into why this may be the case. Once you know why, it's time to find a way to prevent the occurrence. There are three likely causes: an issue with the parts or equipment, a human error or a procedure that needs to be refined.

Value stream mapping
To get a better picture of the overall production process from start to finish, it can be helpful to create a visual aid. You can map the value stream, which the LEI stated encompasses every action involved in the manufacture of your product, from ordering the fasteners and class C components to sending the final product to the customer. By creating a diagram of this process, you'll have better insight into operations. From there you can design a diagram of the ideal setup to optimize lean manufacturing efforts.

Lean policy deployment
Once you identify the areas of weakness, it's time to develop better processes that eliminate waste and create a steady, efficient flow from start to finish. These policies should be treated as living documents, LeanProduction.com suggested. You may find that a solution for reducing lead times may work wonders now but could become less functional down the road. Being able to easily adapt policies and procedures based on the current state of the industry and factory operations will be invaluable in ensuring your company can continue to embrace lean manufacturing practices.

Regular employee training
For new lean manufacturing policies to be fully effective, you'll need to ensure all of your employees are able to understand and follow the new procedures. Training factory workers in the art of lean manufacturing can reduce the risk of human error caused by simple misunderstanding of best practices in a lean manufacturing environment. When staff members are versed in the ins and outs, they may also be able to spot problematic policies and operations that could be improved, helping push your company even closer toward being completely lean.

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