For many, it is a utopian idea to have only as much time, as much personnel and as much material as necessary, and to be able to constantly adapt to any changes in the market. However, this does not have to remain a utopian idea. It is actually possible with Lean Production. The sense behind Lean Production is a production of new goods without waste of any kind. The unnecessary consumption of all resources such as time, money and raw materials should be minimized. Such wastage occurs particularly with scrap material, transport routes or necessary rework and causes high costs.

We will now take a look at the benefits of lean production for companies and what is important when implementing it in practice.

What are the benefits of lean production?

In lean production everything unnecessary is dispensed with. Productivity, product quality and flexibility play a major role. Each of these three points is important and influences the other two.

For example, you have more time for important tasks if you combine the same or similar production processes. If you plan your machines – or even employee capacities flexibly, you will increase the throughput. This in turn enables you to respond to customers much more flexibly. Suddenly short-term and small batch sizes are possible.

Lean Production - Successfully optimizing production 2

This interplay can be seen in many different applications. At the same time, everything results in cost savings. With the introduction of Lean Production, the production location Switzerland can be secured and the high quality of “Swiss Made” can be assured.

How do you switch your production to lean production?

Using the example of Albrecht Jung GmbH, a specialist for electrical installation and building services engineering, we can show you the process of conversion to lean production.

Already in the early 2000s the company introduced lean production. Even today they still benefit from the measures implemented at that time. This means that new developments are constantly possible.

In the company, the production manager Mario Schäfer is responsible for the constant implementation of lean production. The company underwent a change of perspective – away from product focus to process optimization. This means that the same or at least similar processes are now combined, completely independent of the product to be manufactured. Since then, this consolidation into a flow production line has formed the basis for the company’s orientation towards lean production. Mario Schäfer put together a lean team of his own to identify such processes and then redesign production.

Lean Production - Successfully optimizing production 3

For each production line, the employees, together with the works council and the lean team, work out the conversion of their line to lean production in three steps in a workshop lasting about one week each:

1. building understanding

In the first part, the lean team explains lean production to the employees. It becomes clear that a leaner orientation does not mean job cuts, but results in the reduction of unnecessary steps. This then leaves more time for more important tasks. In this step, the employees also look at the material side of lean production. This is in line with Mario Schäfer’s motto: “It doesn’t take a whole tree trunk to make a toothpick.”

Another important step is to build up understanding. Employees have the opportunity to develop their own concrete proposals for streamlining production in dialogue with the lean team. Mario Schäfer agrees that this point is very important: “Inductive learning also means taking time so that employees can try things out for themselves, develop solutions and fully understand the topic.”

2. line balancing

The proposed solutions must of course be tested and refined. This is done in this step. The ideas are tested for practicability on the basis of a jig construction with production-specific fixtures, devices and apparatus. In line balancing, it is then also determined which work steps are to be carried out at which workstations. These tests continue until the optimum solution is found. The solution is then put into practice in production.

3. keep it running

For optimal success and a high level of acceptance among employees, it is important to keep in touch with them: “Continuity is the key to employee confidence,” says Mario Schäfer. “Especially the little things that are unclear form potential stumbling blocks that can erase acceptance of the new.”

For this reason, there are always contact persons on site for any questions.

The consequences of lean production

Thanks to the move to lean production, continuous optimization processes are no problem for the workforce. Employees who have been with the company for a long time recognize the added value of readiness for change by the visibility of the clear benefits of the lean philosophy. However, this philosophy does not pose a problem for new employees either, as they have usually grown up with optimization and expect the lean philosophy to be implemented as soon as they join the company.

This openness among all employees provides a good basis for further optimization steps.

Following the introduction of lean production, there are now eight Universal Robots collaborating robots in use. They perform many different tasks, such as screwing, gripping, placing and assembling. The processed materials are then further processed by employees who can work directly alongside the robots.

Because the precision and repeatability of Cobots are so high, rework and production waste are significantly minimized. In addition, the workload is reduced for the employees, who can now carry out more important tasks.

According to Mario Schäfer, the implementation was an important step towards streamlining production in the company.

“I used to have to fasten the screws by hand. That was often a fiddle, because they are quite small – sometimes I slipped. Work has become safer for me, also thanks to the UR3 robot. I also save valuable time per operation – and can assemble many more parts”.

Employee, Albrecht Jung GmbH

The openness to innovation can be attributed to two main factors. On the one hand, the lean processes proved their worth in practice, which left a good feeling among the employees. And secondly, this openness is due to the good preparatory work in which the understanding of these processes was promoted.

Lean production is the cornerstone of success

According to Mario Schäfer, there are three important factors for successfully optimizing processes:

  • There must be support from the management. It accompanies the change, it supports and it provides the necessary resources.
  • The lean team must be interdisciplinary, have a hands-on mentality and have decision-making powers so that short-term measures can be implemented quickly.
  • The workshop should always be held on site and the works council should be involved.

The step into lean production has more than paid off for Albrecht JUNG GmbH. The results are the flow production lines, which provide for an optimized working method. This is also appreciated by the employees, who now have more time for better tasks with less risk of injury. The Cobots also play their part through their high precision and repeatability, because this way rework and material waste can be minimized.

All these optimizations have improved the company’s profitability. That is why Mario Schäfer is also planning to use more Cobots.