The Lean, Green, Smart Factory Machine


Mark Cunningham, Group Production Operations Director at MBA Group, shares his wealth of industry experience and insight on the many advantages of operating a ‘Smart Factory’.

As a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Mark keeps the emphasis on solving the productivity puzzle that is affecting the print and wider UK manufacturing industry today - discussing how the adoption of technology, accredited services, green credentials and a culture of continuous improvement, all help to build a lean, sustainable and more competitive business model.

As well as detailing his Lean philosophy, Mark provides practical examples of workplace exercises – implementing 5S methodologies, as well as conducting Gemba walks and Kaizen events - that can be undertaken to promote employee engagement across all levels of the business structure.

Blog Article

As the word ‘machine’ implies, the success of operating a lean and sustainable manufacturing business, or ‘Smart Factory’, relies on each part of that business running at its optimum capability in the pursuit of a common goal.

It involves each individual department, and its employees, adopting and adhering to standardised lean manufacturing processes; processes that are in place to limit the potential for waste, of any kind, throughout the manufacturing lifecycle.

Taking into consideration the demands from governing bodies and consumers for all businesses to become more secure, more productive and more environmentally friendly, there has never been a more advantageous time to allow the lean philosophy to play a pivotal role in developing the way we manufacture.

Success on the journey towards lean manufacturing means building within ourselves a culture of continuous improvement – a culture that should by no means be restricted to production departments alone (more on this later). 

The benefits that the lean journey promises – and delivers – are unique, and go beyond basic cost efficiencies. Compliance with green initiatives for example, will help a business to reduce expenditure on wasted materials and energy consumption; but it will also provide the groundwork for future-proofing that business through the development of sustainable production methods.

Admittedly, this all takes time, and there are many obstacles to navigate before a business can begin to consider itself ‘Smart’. So lets start at the beginning…

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“If a company is already prospering, what’s the point of becoming lean?” I hear you ask.

OK. But the problem here lies in your definition of ‘prosperity’.

If your business views prosperity as purely synonymous with profit, then addressing this issue needs to be challenge number one.  This is not to say that businesses shouldn’t be motivated by making a profit, of course they should, but remaining competitive in tomorrow’s marketplace requires businesses to broaden their approach – to continuously review and improve business practices and encourage long-term optimum performances from all individuals, across all departments and divisions.

Here are my Top 5 advantages that lean and sustainable practices offer businesses:

When it comes to defining ‘prosperity’, those operating a successful ‘Smart Factory’ understand things a little differently.  They understand that the lean journey will allow them to progressively build a production environment that is sustainable, providing them with many benefits and efficiencies that go above and beyond reducing costs or increasing profits directly.

MBA Group’s Head of Project Management, Tony Lynas, alludes to this in his blog article, in which he believes that one outcome of the Paris Climate Change Conference in November 2015 will be increased scrutiny on environmental practices by all of us.  In light of the recent natural disasters in Scotland and the North of England that have both short and long-term consequences for communities and economies alike, Tony argues that businesses need to identify partners, within the supply-chain, that offer more assurances as well as boasting more robust Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity arrangements.

In line with this impetus, MBA recently lodged its compliance with the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), and are continuing to work towards accreditations for its ISO50001 Energy Management System and ISO22301 Business Continuity Management System.

On top of the obvious acknowledgements and business benefits that accreditations provide, the granular knowledge gathered during the process towards compliance provides a holistic view of operational efficiencies and highlights areas for improvement within the business.

At MBA, a company wide Energy Committee meets quarterly to assess energy audits carried out by employees on the production floor; taking suggestions from those on the ground as to where waste could be limited and savings made.

As a result of these types of efforts, an improvement culture begins to form, whereby production departments and employees are encouraged to vigilantly self-maintain, assess and improve upon their workplace, doing so through the adoption of 5S methodologies.

The 5S method is a globally used system for promoting clean, high-performance workstations.  Translated from the Japanese, the 5S’s refer to five improvement stages – Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise, Sustain.  These stages are largely based on reducing waste via visual indicators located throughout the workplace - floor markings, signs, level markings etc. - and are implemented as the result of inter-departmental teams mapping current processes, and deciding where improvements might be made. 

As the graphic shows, 5S is always working towards sustainable production and continuous improvement of waste reduction:

The success of the lean journey relies on a gradual, measurable progression of improvement and learning.  Within a successfully operating ‘Smart Factory’, adhering to 5S methods should become muscle memory.  And as with any form of learning, falling into the trap of doing too much too soon, or moving forward without consolidating upon the lessons of previous stages, will almost certainly contribute to failure.

However, correct application of these methods will help facilitate the achievement of consistent operational results, increased productivity for the business and importantly, an improved service for the client and/or end customer.

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The introduction of 5S to production departments, form the first practical steps a business can take towards fostering a culture of continuous improvement and assessment.  MBA now have trained 5S champions auditing each other’s departments and sharing advice, learning and guidance in weekly meetings to discuss progress and common challenges.

With the understanding that a business operating a ‘Smart Factory’ is one that promotes organisation-wide inclusion and participation amongst its employees, MBA will be engaging in our first Gemba walks and Kaizen events in the coming months.

Here are 10 leading questions to consider asking on your Gemba walk:

Gemba walks provide an opportunity for employees across all levels of the business to stand back from their day-to-day tasks and walk the production floor, questioning processes, contributing individual ideas and building inter-departmental relationships.

As a way of consolidating upon ideas shared during these walks, we will also be initiating Kaizen events.  Lasting for 3-5 days, these short duration ‘live’ projects identify specific targets for improvement and allow us to integrate previous Gemba walk assessment work.  The events are led by a facilitator who works with an implementation team, predominantly made up by members of the department targeted for improvement.

Remember: an effective Kaizen event should identify and create further Kaizen opportunities. 

Here’s my guide on how to plan and run a successful Kaizen event:

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Lastly, the introduction of technology into the manufacturing industry over the past 30-40 years is impossible to ignore, especially as the adoption of innovative new technologies goes hand in hand with any business ultimately becoming a ‘Smart Factory’.

John Koten, in his article for the Wall Street Journal, stresses that we are entering a ‘New Industrial Revolution’, so called due to the way that digital technology and computer-based manufacturing now informs so much of the production process across all industries.

MBA has a history of implementing technology to improve working processes and Management Information (MI).  The introduction of MRDF across different manufacturing equipment ensures the integrity of pack contents and tracks a job’s progress throughout the production process.  

Furthermore, through in-house solutions development, we have built dynamic views of production performance and staged progress of output.  Viewable across all levels of business, this invaluable technological tool keeps everyone, from management to the shop floor, constantly up to date and informed on the progress our client’s work.

Like others in the marcomms industry, MBA has also identified a future of marketing and communications that is increasingly more targeted, more personalised and more relevant to consumers. This (gradual) cultural shift away from less targeted ‘blanket’ marketing activity naturally involves less volumes of printed output, but print will still remain an integral part of the marketing mix due to its highly regarded performance.

In a strategic move to respond to this industry development, MBA recently acquired 3 new Ricoh Pro™ VC60000 digital presses – an UK industry first! The much improved qualities and efficiencies of this new technology is helping to future-proof our business by enabling the company to react to market demands and better facilitate all of our clients’ needs and requirements.

However, as beneficial as these types of innovations are for the development of the business and its ‘Smart Factory’, as with the first Industrial Revolution, businesses will have to contend with fear amongst the workforce that this technology will replace people’s jobs.

But many businesses running a ‘Smart Factory’ will be acutely aware of the advantages of using technology as a way of making the working lives of their employees more efficient, more productive and more error-proof – not replacing skilled workers from their stations. 

Advances in computer-based manufacturing should be embraced, not feared.  New technologies will allow for the more accurate measurement of improvements across a business’ entire structure, and will certainly lead to the development of a cleaner and more productive working environment for employees.

Lets say a business did plan on replacing its employees with new technology, it would surely defeat any point in fostering a culture of continuous improvement.  An enclosing machine can’t raise its hand at a Kaizen event and suggest a way to better improve its efficiency, can it?  The skilled operators, however, who know the machine, area and necessary processes, can use innovations in technology as an aid, to help them find creative solutions, ‘human solutions’, to shop floor problems. 

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The bottom line is this - in a world where customers demands are always in a state of flux and competitors are circling ready to poach business, all departments need to work with a standard approach that eliminates any waste and delays, whilst adding value for the customer.

Operating a ‘Smart Factory’ means getting into a position to challenge non-production departments on their workplace organisation too.  The key to success is setting a lean ‘gold standard’, a role-model department, which all others can look to for advice, inspiration and guidance.

Hypothetical case in point: if production processes were to improve from 5 days to 2 days, but pre-production processes still require 10 days, there will have been little overall improvement in efficiency for the company, or indeed service for the client.

It’s all too easy to view 5S methodologies, and the ‘Smart Factory’ concept as something uniquely applicable to the factory environment. One of the initial, but pivotal challenges a business will face is promoting the understanding that lean processes can extend beyond the hustle and bustle of the shop floor.  Sales, Account Management, Finance and Human Resources etc. – all should be prepared to critically evaluate their work areas and working practices.


References / Sources:

Average Productivity Uplift via Lean Manufacturing

Source: UK Manufacturing Advisory Service