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What is lean manufacturing and why is it such a big deal?

We often think of manufacturing as an “old” industry, one that’s dying off as Australia moves from an industrial and mining economy to one focused on services. News coverage of Australian manufacturers closing down or moving offshore due to rising costs are all too familiar.

But for those actually in the manufacturing business, we know this is a forward-facing industry that’s always looking for ways to improve. It can be sustainable and in fact an advantage, if you get your processes right. And that’s exactly the type of mentality we have at Luus.

It can be summed up in one word. One of our five company values: “Lean.”

Basically, lean manufacturing is all about eliminating waste and being as efficient as possible. That doesn’t mean doing things quickly or compromising standards. It’s more of a mindset, a way of thinking about how we create products in a way that gets them from raw materials into a finished product with the least amount of wasted time, and therefore delivering maximum value to the customer.

It’s actually an old idea that first started in the car factories of Japan after World War II. Instead of using old ways of manufacturing, in which improvements came from the top-down, you empower everyone in a business to make decisions that could benefit everyone.

Lean manufacturing at Luus

Adrian Tilley is the Production Manager here at Luus, and a huge advocate of lean manufacturing. He’s been one of the biggest proponents for change here at the factory, constantly looking for ways to make us more efficient.

“We’re at the early stages of applying some advanced lean practices,” he says. “It comes down to studying the current state, identifying where we want to be, and then working on the processes.”

“It could be as simple as putting one machine closer to the other, or changing the order of certain tasks. It can range from the simple, to extremely complex – like using automation.”

But…what does it mean to be lean?

Good question. Lean manufacturing is less about doing things in a prescriptive way, and more about principles. They can differ from company to company, but here are the types of things most lean manufacturing businesses try to stick to:

  • Continuous improvement. Always looking for ways to make things better.
  • Respect for people. This is a big one – make sure relationships are strong and that any suggestion is respected and taken seriously, no matter who it’s from.
  • Take a long-term view. We make decisions that benefit us in the long term, sometimes even if that makes short-term work a little harder. (This is especially true for us, as we’re always thinking about the future of manufacturing in Australia.)
  • Creating the right process. Always looking for ways to improve and make things more efficient.
  • Solving the right problems. We don’t just look on the surface. We’re always trying to find the root cause of a problem, rather than just focusing on the short-term or the superficial.

 

Cool, but what does that look like?

It’s early days yet, but we’ve made some significant changes to the way we manufacture our products, ranging from the basic – like having the right materials closer to each machine – to the more advanced – like implementing “5S” methodology across the factory floor and office.

“We’ve got a number of tasks on the go which include looking at new welding technologies, and even our machines,” says Adrian. “Better equipment means we can weld faster, and you end up with less heat going into the product, which means less distortion.”

Perhaps the biggest change we’ve made is the addition of a mezzanine to the factory, an extra space where we can remove and sequester non-manufacturing jobs, relocating them to make sure we have a more efficient flow in the core production area.

But while this is a bigger step, Adrian points out that lean manufacturing is mostly about identifying a bunch of little changes that can add up to greater efficiency over a longer period of time.

“People look at lean needing to be in massive chunks, but it’s just about going up a flight of stairs. Every step achieves a higher goal, and adding those up leads to enormous change.”

Changing for the better

We’re not afraid of change at Luus. In fact, looking for improvements and achieving a better outcome is part of our core values. If Australian manufacturing is going to survive in the 21st century, we need to adopt this mindset – not just among the people making the products, but all of us involved in the process.

We’d love to show you more of our lean manufacturing thoughts in person. Why not take a tour of our factory floor? You’ll be able to see where some of the best Australian-made kitchen products are manufactured.

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