The goal of Lean Manufacturing is to perform tasks smarter, thereby reducing waste and increasing delivery times and productivity. According to the Lean Enterprise Research Center (LERC), 60% of production activities in a typical manufacturing operation are wasteful, meaning they add no value from the customer’s perspective. According to a recent TEKLYNX survey, over 30% of end users indicated they continue to struggle with lean labeling. In addition, over 60% of respondents noted having manual printing steps in their labeling process that could be eliminated with print automation.
“A lot of people think that Lean Manufacturing is a concept that simply belongs in the plant,” explains Thomas Dahbura, president of Hub Labels. “Some of the biggest improvements that you can make are on the front office and accounting side. That’s money going right to the bottom line.”
There are many different lean philosophies, including 6S, 5Y, fishbone diagrams, process mapping and value-stream mapping, as well as Kaizen. The 6S model – formerly known as 5S – incorporates the following principles: sort, straighten, shine, standardize, sustain and safety. Safety was the most recently-added element.
The 5S workflow chart is designed to distinguish what is needed and what is superfluous in a business, before finding a proper location for all of a company’s needed items. Keeping everything clean and ordered is a driving principle, and the business subsequently works hard to enforce these lean philosophies. The 5Y methodology – also known as 5 Why – implores lean practitioners to ask “why” something is the way that it is, ultimately seeking out the root cause of an organizational deficiency.
Meanwhile, Kaizen creates a culture of continuous improvement, where employees work together to develop new and better ideas to increase productivity. Setting goals, making improvements and formulating action plans are all part of the Kaizen model. Employees are encouraged to think differently about how they work.
Customers are key in the Lean Manufacturing process, as well. Often times, customers will receive better lead times and smaller minimum purchase requirements. “With lean you start with the customer demand schedule, identifying what they need and when,” says Tony Cook, CEO at Great Lakes Label. “You need to know this information to best implement your own internal lean changes, and as an organization you will become much more engaged with your customer and their needs. Our customers have expressed a large satisfaction with our lean initiatives. In fact, many of our customers have lean initiatives of their own, so they like to work together on these projects because they know the benefits to an organization first-hand. And most customers like to see their supply chain becoming more efficient.”
According to Dahbura, Hub Labels has been able to avoid price increases with this philosophy. “For five years, we were able to hold back from inflation by managing our operations,” he says. “We talk to our customers. We have outreach programs with our customers where we talk to them, teach them about lean and how we can integrate lean. We incorporate a lot of these practices.”
Lean Manufacturing is focused on reducing waste. Waste is not necessarily garbage, either, although it could be. FLEXcon defines its “8 sins of waste” as: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, defects and skills. Essentially, any motion or movement that does not contribute to a better overall bottom line is termed waste.
TEKLYNX uses a five-step process. It starts with identifying waste, as inaccurate labels, process waste and maintenance costs are among the leading causes of labeling waste. The second step involves analyzing the root cause of the problem, which could be causing waste. The company must then go about solving the root cause by identifying system improvements based on root cause analysis. The converter must then measure the results, establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) and tracking performance. Lastly, move to the next source of waste and repeat the process.
“Companies can use the same principles from Lean Manufacturing as the basis for implementing lean labeling,” says Doug Niemeyer, general manager of TEKLYNX. “To start, companies should recognize that ‘going lean’ in labeling requires a review of the entire labeling process, including planning, designing, printing and tracking labels. From there, companies should look to partner with their software and technology providers to identify and evaluate opportunities to eliminate waste and increase efficiencies.”
During TLMI’s inaugural printTHINK Summit, Jeff Feeney, general manager at PrintFlex Graphics, explained how his company resolved wasted motion in traveling to the printer – located at the rear of the facility. “Everyone was getting up and going to the back of the building to use the same printer, so we just put a printer on everyone’s desk,” Feeney said in a session on process mapping. “It keeps us on task.”
In the interest of self-growth, Hub Labels is also a proponent of sharing best practices in an open forum setting. “We actively engage our local community,” says Dahbura. “We take part in a peer group where we meet with people in the manufacturing industry, and we get together with local companies big and small once a month.”
“Even though the industries are different, and somebody might be in a heavy manufacturing industry, a lot of these lean tools and principles can be used anywhere,” explains Jesse Hood, continuous improvement manager at Hub Labels. “Where they’re using a visual management system, we can accomplish the same thing here. We can look at safety there the same way we can look at safety here. That’s the cool thing about lean: it comes down to a process, and you can always improve a process.”
FLEXcon, a global supplier of coated and laminated films and adhesives, instituted a Lean Manufacturing system in its facility in 2003. In embracing lean processes, FLEXcon has adopted cellular manufacturing, Kaizen, Kanban, and visual reinforcement and scheduling.
“It is important to foster a culture where ‘hating waste’ and eliminating it is everyone’s responsibility in their daily work across all functional areas,” says Jodi Sawyer, market development manager, FLEXcon. “A good place to start is identifying and eliminating what is widely recognized as the eight sins of waste.”
An ISO 9001:2008-certified manufacturer, FLEXcon has taken a leading role in its pursuit of lean. The company co-sponsored a Lean Champions Roundtable with the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) to share philosophies with other businesses, ranging from precision tools and screen printing to plastic injection molding and beverages.
“One of the key principles in becoming lean is to go to the place where the work is done,” adds Sawyer. “You will get a clearer picture of your process and how to eliminate waste in it by observing it rather than relying on reports and data to understand it.”
In the case of Hub Labels, the company started with a simple idea: setup reduction. Substrate supplier Avery Dennison, reached out to Hub Labels and guided the converter through the process.
“It was a great outreach by Avery Dennison,” says Hub Labels’ Dahbura. “Eight years ago, they had a program called Fasson Optimum Performance. If we’re running a press at capacity, we’re consuming paper, so that means they’re selling more paper. They invested in us both – and it was a big investment on their part – and it’s been tremendous.”
Avery Dennison introduced Hub Labels to all the classic lean tools: 6S, 5Y, fishbone, spaghetti diagrams, among others. Hub Labels learned that it could streamline its operations into pods, where work cells like graphics, sales and customer service all mold together. A significant amount of refinement actually takes place on the front end of the business.
“What a lot of people forget when they come to visit us and they see all our lean initiatives, is that it starts with a very simple idea and you just keep branching out into different areas,” explains Dahbura.
According to Great Lakes Label’s Cook, upper management should attend an overview seminar on lean before bringing in consultants. “Lean is a cultural change within an organization, and upper management should be leading the lean initiative,” he says. “If management is doing this on their own, there are many seminars and training tools online for lean. Management should review and select which ones they want to use for their organization and purchase these tools ahead of time. There are lean terminology guidelines, basic lean understanding overview books, 5S posters and more. These should be posted around the facility to emphasize the awareness to the plant that your organization is becoming lean.”
At Great Lakes Label, becoming lean was a rigorous process. The physical moves took about six months, and once the moving was done, the converter instituted 5S on every work station. Continuous process improvements were the next step. As the organization learns how to conduct continuous process improvements, often times more data will be needed to measure the company, which led Great Lakes Label to upgrade its software.
“The thing about lean is it is a continuous improvement process, which by definition is a journey that never ends,” explains Cook. “You will always have improvement processes going on that are being measured and tweaked for improvement in both the front end and the back end of the business. Once this becomes a corporate culture, it starts a ball rolling that never stops.”
“While employees can be resistant to change, the companies that TEKLYNX has partnered with to implement lean labeling would tell you the benefits far exceed the employee training and adjustments required to implement change,” adds TEKLYNX’s Niemeyer. “We advise companies to get started with lean labeling because we know first-hand that the smallest of changes can have a huge impact on efficiency and profitability.”
The Lean Challenge
There are challenges abound when adopting lean practices, especially for label and packaging converters. In many cases, printers will have employees – including press operators – who have been with the company for more than 30 years.
“It’s a huge undertaking because you’ve got people involved in the business who’ve been doing it the same way all this time, and now you’re going to them saying, ‘Let’s try to find a better way of doing it’,” Dahbura.
Hub Labels’ Hood identifies the three types of employees and how challenges are presented. There are employees who are going to accept Lean Manufacturing practices 100%, and they’re willing to learn from the beginning. Then there are those who are skeptical, but they’re going to go along with the change. According to Hood, they may not agree with everything but they’re going to at least listen. Then there is the final group – employees who are always going to resist change.
“For the middle group and the last group, the factors that I see that help overcome this change are empowering the employees to make their own decisions and come up with new ideas and accept them as their own,” says Hood. “There’s continual education of what lean is and how it’s moving our company. I think a big one that our whole management team does a great job with and excels at is something as simple as creating relationships; having relationships with all the employees no matter who they are – positive relationships. And any time you have a win, celebrate it and let it be known.”
Upper management plays a critical role in the process. According to Great Lakes Label’s Cook, employees need to first have an overview from management of what lean is, how management is committed to using lean to become a better organization, and how it is a complete top-to-bottom team effort. Most importantly, employees need to learn how lean will benefit them.
“It is important to have every person in the organization on a continuous improvement team at some point and to share all data and findings with them,” says Cook. “It’s important to encourage employees to suggest areas that they deem need improvement. Management should acknowledge, evaluate and give feedback to every single suggestion in a timely manner, and the ideas that become a continuous improvement event should be recognized as the employee’s idea.”
On the other hand, TEKLYNX’s Niemeyer does not think the process is as daunting as it might sound. “We’ve seen company after company implement lean by committing to it and using the simple five-step lean labeling process as their guide,” he says. “More often than not, we find that the answers to lean labeling are there within the organization, the lean labeling framework simply provides a means with which to find them.”
In addition to lean manufacturing, businesses often institute Six Sigma principles into their operations. Six Sigma Black Belt and Green Belt leaders must receive certification. A Green Belt works under the Black Belt and must have three years of work experience using Six Sigma guidelines.
DRG Technologies recently hired its first Six Sigma Black Belt leader. Jeremy Hefner was brought in to drive continuous process improvement.
“From my education and experience, Six Sigma often requires a lot more training than a lean facilitator, where it may take only 3-5 days of training,” explains Hub Labels’ Hood. “Meanwhile, Six Sigma requires two weeks of training if not more. The project that it takes to get certified can last up to a year.”
“Lean is more about process improvement and eliminating waste and non-value steps in a process, while Six Sigma is more about the statistical measurement and analysis of the variation of a process,” explains Cook. “Both have benefits. In fact, there now exists the combination of the two called Lean Six Sigma.”