Automotive Organizations Implementing Green Lean Six Sigma Initiatives
The term lean manufacturing signifies a production methodology which is aimed at reducing waste by lowering inventory on the shop floor of a manufacturing enterprise.
It has its origins that extend deep into Japanese culture, where manufacturers enforce strict policies on materials control, with the aim of achieving as close to zero inventory and stockless production as is possible. Therefore, the idea behind lean manufacturing is to try and achieve nil inventory by only producing what is required, when it is required, thus eliminating the need for storage costs and freeing up capital that may be tied up as inventory.
On the other hand, Six Sigma is a method of working which seeks to achieve near perfect production practices by eliminating any unnecessary steps in manufacturing while reducing any waste that may come as a result of inefficiencies. By definition, waste in Six Sigma terms is any work that is done that incurs a material, capital or manpower cost without adding value to the customer.
Through implementation of a combination of lean manufacturing policies and Six Sigma practices, Toyota and Ford Motor Company have managed to not only become two of the most profitable companies in the automotive industry, but have also managed to drastically reduce their impact on the environment through efficiency and reduction of both waste and emissions.
Toyota’s philosophy has helped make it one of the top three automobile manufacturers in the world today, and it’s Green Lean Six Sigma methods are now replicated by most other car manufacturers worldwide.
In fact, the Western concept of Lean manufacturing has its roots in the Toyota Production System (TPS), which is an integrated socio-technical model that involves both the company’s management strategies and its production practices.
Commonly referred to as The Toyota Way, TPS’ key objectives are to design a system that avoids overburdening its staff or processes while eliminating waste. In this case, waste could mean anything from unnecessary movement, wasted time waiting for the product or for assistance, and even wasted materials that could end up clogging the environment.
Ironically the company’s top brass was inspired to develop TPS by visiting an American supermarket. They saw value in the supermarket’s operations where items were ordered and restocked only when they had been bought by customers.
Toyota then applied this lesson by ensuring that it reduced its inventory to a level where it was just enough for its employees to carry out production of its cars and subsequently reorder only when the materials were exhausted.
The fundamental principles of lean manufacturing that were pioneered by Toyota’s team have become universally accepted, but have been adapted to fit the circumstances of each organization that adopts them. A good example of this kind of transformation comes from the Ford Production System that is in use at the Ford Motor Company.
According to the company, “The vision of FPS is a lean, flexible and disciplined common production system, defined by a set of principles and processes, that employs groups of capable and empowered people, learning and working safely together, in the production and delivery of products that consistently exceed customers’ expectations in quality, cost and time.”
Through visual management, time and data management operations, policy deployment and process confirmation, FPS has ensured that the company delivers a more capable organization that continually strives to improve its production practices, better its manufacturing environment and reduce its footprint on the environment.
This is mainly achieved by building a standardized product as a result of the creation of standard manufacturing processes. Little time is wasted when training new employees and they can be brought on board and be productive in the shortest time possible. Each worker at a Ford plant only has to perform a small and specific part of the entire job and moves the workflow to the next step of the process.
Lean Six Sigma has really found its niche in the automotive industry, thanks to its goals of improving production processes by eliminating waste and encouraging a policy of continuous improvement.
By understanding what is wasteful and eliminating it, these organizations have been able to improve their overall performance and lessen the impact of their manufacturing processes on the environment by reducing the steps and procedures needed to arrive at a finished product and lessening the need for unnecessary movement and transportation.
To learn more, visit LeanSixSigmaEnvironment.org