Lean production aims to eliminate waste and maximize the value of a product based on the perspective of the consumer.
IB Syllabus – Higher Level
Lean production use a highly trained and multi-skilled workforce, stringent quality control and continuous improvement. It strives to have zero defects, zero inventory (in storage). The JIT (just in time) system is utilised in lean production. This article from Core77 tells of a factory visit to Leatherman and mentions numerous aspects of lean production.
Like most factories, this one is laid out for efficiency. Production flows from one side of the building to the other, starting with the lifeblood of the factory: a custom die shop. The die shop (curtained off to outsiders) houses what I imagine to be wizardly figures, conceiving, crafting and repairing the dies used in each machine. Having the designers and machinists in close proximity with production makes it quicker to design new dies and fix broken ones than sending things out of house.The first stage is stamping, the meatiest part of the process. Most of the steel arrives as narrow sheet coiled on large spools, big enough to take your head off if one were to burst open. Sheet steel is fed from the spools through fine blanking machines, which cut out tool blanks. They rapidly hole-punch the sheet and spit out outlines of components like knife blades and screwdriver bits. My guides proudly noted that, in keeping with Mr. Leatherman’s values, all of the steel used is American made. Since virtually all Leatherman tools have an all-steel construction, that’s saying something. (Any other materials used—such as the glass-injected plastic handles of their new EMT multi-shears—are chosen for their tactile and functional similarity to steel.)
My guides also let me stick my fingers in a pile of the resulting screwdriver shapes, stored in open stacking bins. Parts are produced on-demand and every batch is subjected to a quality check at each stage, so small plastic boxes are used for transportation and quick quality assurance.
The role of the workforce in lean production is paramount, relying on their wisdom and experience to improve the process, reducing waste, cost and production time. Recognizing this results in motivated workforces whose interests are in the success of the product.
The introduction of CNC machining initially raised fears about job cuts, but the opposite has happened: more technicians were hired to run the machines and others to maintain them. Meanwhile, the facility now produces an average of 16,000 tools a day.
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