Going Lean With Your Sign Company
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Going Lean With Your Sign Company

Now more than ever, the sign industry needs to make the most of their resources and refine processes to utilize the utmost in efficiency throughout their company. Read how one company has done just that.

By Joe Lupone, President and CEO of InteliCoat Technologies

It is now more important than ever for companies in the sign industry to make the most of their resources and learn to function as efficiently as possible.

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  • Print providers are doing everything to make the most of their dollars. Among all the tactics being used, lean manufacturing is rapidly gaining popularity as a means of achieving these goals.

    Derived from the Toyota Production System (TPS), the aim of lean manufacturing is to achieve "more value with less work" by eliminating the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer. As a result of this approach, companies worldwide have dramatically reduced operational costs and waste while increasing service levels.

    This article will look at the process for implementing a successful lean program, and discuss the tangible benefits both a company and its end users can achieve by committing to the lean philosophy. It will also detail and provide advice on utilizing training methods such as "5S" Training - Simplify/Straighten/Scrub/Stabilize/Self Discipline, in order to initiate organizational change.

    The Roots of the Lean Process
    Based on principles from the Japanese manufacturing industry, the lean method places operational excellence as one of its main objectives in order to dramatically reduce operational costs and waste while increasing service levels. This approach allows organizations to link their capabilities and knowledge to outside chain suppliers in order to make the supply chain leaner and more responsive, while delivering customer value and continuous improvement. A ground-up approach, lean processes involve dramatic improvements across the entire company, from material procurement to sales and marketing to design and manufacturing efforts.

    One of the guiding principles of the lean process rests in attacking bottlenecks utilizing Kaizen events. A Japanese word adopted into English, Kaizen refers to a philosophy or practices focusing on continuous improvement in manufacturing activities, including activities that continually improve all functions of a business. First implemented in several Japanese businesses during the country's recovery after World War II, the goal is to make Kaizen events routine as employees become in-house-certified and trained in Kaizen techniques in order to deliver the utmost in customer satisfaction and service levels.

    Getting Started: Implementing a Lean Program
    The first step for print providers looking to improve their processes through a lean initiative is a commitment by senior management. A lean initiative cannot have the same effectiveness if the burden lies only with particular departments. There needs to be a commitment from the president of the company down to every employee in order to implement the philosophy successfully. When administered properly, it brings the whole team together with the common understanding that lean is the way of the future and will benefit everyone.

    Once this commitment has been made, senior management has to develop and share a road map for the lean journey and communicate the vision for the company. This involves multiple communications and "train-do, train-do" events, which are based on the 5S principle - Simplify/Straighten/Scrub/Stabilize/Self Discipline. Not only is "5S" training a key culture-changing practice that involves everyone in the waste elimination process on a day-to-day basis, but it utilizes, a "train-do, train-do" method, in which employees have hands on training. This training, combined with a commitment to lean tools and practices, can help organizations achieve improvements in productivity and elimination of waste without taking drastic cost-cutting measures.

    In addition to 5S implementation and waste training, organizations implementing the lean approach should complete a value stream map (VSM), which details every step of each critical process in the organization. Through the VSM exercise, low hanging fruit for waste elimination and customer value improvement will become evident.

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    Once these opportunities have been prioritized, Kaizen exercises can address the opportunities and streamline the corresponding processes. For example, Kaizen events can focus on specific areas / functions within a particular department. One approach is to film the activity in question and then review with employees in order to identify ways to become more efficient. Such an approach can dramatically improve processes and eliminate waste. Examples of self auditing such as this are widespread within the lean approach because they enable employees with ideas for elimination of waste and improving customer value to evaluate and act on their ideas.

    Beyond these components, lean practices also encourage the involvement of outside resources to audit or critique the lean journey. Engaging fellow lean companies provides the opportunity for an unbiased third party to share ideas and perceptions regarding a company's progress.

    Examples of Lean Results in the Sign Industry
    Once the core foundation for a lean program has been laid, organizations can expect dramatic improvements throughout business processes. Although lean is a general concept that can be applied to many trades, its application in the sign industry has been proven by many.

    For example, we at InteliCoat have achieved huge gains in productivity and eliminated millions of dollars in waste with little investments in new systems or capital as a result of our lean efforts. There has been an improvement in virtually every aspect of the company - on time performance has gone up, quality has gone up, the service level overall has gone up in all areas.

    One of the critical components to InteliCoat's approach relates to value-added vs. non-value added services (in other words waste) via the DOWNTIME acronym (D-efects, O-verproduction, W-aiting, N-ot utilizing talent, T-ravel, I-nventory, M-otion, E-xcess processing). Representing the eight different types of waste; the DOWNTIME acronym is posted throughout the company to remind employees of what to be on the look-out for.

    As a result, InteliCoat has experienced dramatic reductions in change-over times, among several other accomplishments. Prior to implementing lean practices, InteliCoat was conducting 25 to 30 machine change-overs in converting, which took one person 28 minutes, and for 10 minutes of that time two people were involved. This meant that one machine was down for 28 minutes and another down for 10 minutes, 25 to 30 times per day.

    After repetitive Kaizen events and heavy involvement of the machine operators and video cameras; InteliCoat now completes machine change-overs in 10 minutes with one person, resulting in a reduction from 19 man hours per day to five man hours per day. This has enhanced service levels, with two times as many change-overs in order to meet growing customer requests. Similar set-up time reductions have been achieved in the coating and mix operations as well. These change-over achievements have led to a savings of over $5.5M in working capital in the past 12 months - almost solely because the improved agility now allows us to meet higher customer service levels with less inventory.

    As a result of lean tactics, the entire workforce seeks out waste elimination opportunities on a daily basis to enable huge gains in productivity, while eliminating waste with little investment in new systems or capital. Although this may seem like a basic concept, today's volatile economic environment makes it more important than ever for print providers to make the most of their resources and learn to function as efficiently as possible. As a result of its ability to improve virtually every aspect of the company, the principles of the lean process can help print providers across the sign industry to streamline their business and achieve success.

    Joseph Lupone is President and CEO of InteliCoat Technologies, a world leader in the manufacture of coated paper, film, and specialty substrates for digital imaging applications. For more information about InteliCoat or its lean approach, please visit www.intelicoat.com

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