Navigating Lean Manufacturing & Waste Reduction Post COVID-19

Empty shelves synonymous with the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted inventory shortage issues in our manufacturing processes. You couldn’t flip through a manufacturing trade magazine without seeing Lean Manufacturing as the culprit. And while, yes, lean emphasizes waste reduction and can be associated with JIT (Just In Time) manufacturing, it is an adaptive process that requires us to also look at shortage issues and incorporate learning lessons to improve our lean processes.

Lean Manufacturing principles include delivering value to customers. For example, it wouldn’t be of value to customers to have extensive order delays. Sometimes lean processes can become too lean and emphasize inventory-free shelves, but every customer base and industry is unique. Lean principles guide us to knowing our customers well and determining what, if any, inventory might be adequate to have on hand at any time to balance waste reduction with customer satisfaction.

The Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t in the plans for most manufacturers, so factories required quick pivots. Now, in the recovery phase, an even bigger endeavor will be necessary. That is to stay competitive, which is at the very heart of lean. Continual learning to improve your competitive advantage through your supply chain and manufacturing processes. Giving equal weight to the customer experience and waste minimization is a delicate yet requisite balance to strike.

Maintaining competitive advantages moving forward, leading manufacturers are incorporating learning lessons into their lean process. Two of those key lessons are:

Adopting manufacturing technology for competitive advantage

In 2018, it was reported that only 6% of companies had complete supply chain visibility, 15% only had visibility on production, and 62% of companies had limited visibility of their supply chain. Today, only about 23% of companies report having full supply chain visibility.

This lack of supply chain visibility means, despite Covid-19 learning curves, most companies still cannot see real-time numbers and make daily decisions. One cure for this is to adopt tech that gets the supply chain closer to the customer’s needs, whether through tech that informs supply chain managers or tech that delivers supply directly to customers. In addition, a transition from slower, server-based systems and processes tend to make the decision-making process lag versus real-time, cloud-based supply chain computing. Some of the technologies being leveraged by industry leaders include:

IoTThe Internet of Things offers the power of prediction via tracking devices. For example, when placed on finished goods, shipping containers, and warehouse stations, IoT can help track location, weather conditions, and traffic patterns and deliver insights to supply chain managers unreached by traditional methods. In addition, IoT sensors placed on production equipment can alert technicians to do maintenance before machines fail, saving downtime on the production floor.

Blockchain – The blockchain will be instrumental in the future of validating work, shipments, and deciphering counterfeits. Post Covid-19, blockchain’s immutable record of transactions offers a permanent record and end-to-end transparency. As a result, blockchain applications will unlock faster transaction speeds, reduce paperwork, and bring cost-efficiency when implementation increases.

AI, machine learning, and analytics – Utilizing AI technologies can allow manufacturers to automate operations, improve delivery times, manage inventory in real-time, and diversifying vendors while increasing customer satisfaction. Machine learning is at the heart of AI, and machine agility has the potential to deliver better forecasting, increase uptime, and improve quality.

Robots & automation – As the economy emerges, the adoption of robots and automation are in full swing. After factories were faced with worker shortages and inventory continues to lag, we’ll see a significant investment into robots and automation that deliver predictability hedge bets against future pandemics and human-impacted disasters.

3D Printing – Long lead times and distant shipping routes exacerbated by dialed down factories during Covid-19 have sparked a recovery upsurge in onshoring via 3D printing efforts. Now, distributing factory headquarters into multiple facility production hubs worldwide is becoming a way to cut back on logistics and transport, decrease carbon footprints, and buck offshore sourcing issues like tariffs. Powered by 3D printers, customers can see a faster shipment of products, and corporations can save on the development of large-scale centralized factories.

Technology is an important component for manufacturers navigating through the recovery period. Like all shiny objects, there will be some particular learning curves for every company. However, these technologies are adding streamlined approaches and cutting additional waste that serves lean manufacturing models and improves customer relations — also a prominent characteristic of the lean model.

Balancing lean with customer value and flexibility

Keeping lean practices from impacting customers will be a big focus moving forward. Lean is an ever-evolving drive for value. Being customer-focused is what saved many companies during the pandemic, and it’s an even more significant factor moving forward. Though customers might have been more forgiving at the time of the pandemic, swinging back, it’s the companies that center customer value as supplies are pinched that will win.

Some of the top actions manufacturers plan on taking in the wake of recovery can be seen by the percentage below via The Supply Chain Resilience Report by BCI:

  • “19.6% plan to have more inventory.”
  • “26.9% will keep inventory levels the same but will be changing supplier base.”
  • “19.2% will keep the same inventory levels but keep the same suppliers.”
  • “21.6% are unsure which inventory management direction they are going to go for.”
  • “12.7% of business leaders say that inventory management planning is not applicable in their organizations.”

Depending on your specific manufacturing process, the way you manufacture and source will change once supply chains normalize. However, having a well-thought-out plan and considering customer needs will help stabilize your lean processes.

Reacting to the recovery

Reacting to the recovery is an opportunity for manufacturers as markets adjust for higher demand for specific goods, demand for lower-quality goods wanes, and other opportunities arise in price shifts. Click here to learn 6 easy steps to reduce supply chain waste. Of course, minimizing waste will always be a priority in lean manufacturing, but the strategy to pursue will depend on a company’s manufacturing process.

Amid this recovery, manufacturers must be open to adjusting their business model for increased consumer demand and competitive advantage. However, even more important is to stay lean and prepare for the inevitable recovery.

Full service waste management for the manufacturing industry

Manufacturing operations count on National Waste Associates (NWA) for the tailored waste management services to meet their goals. Beyond local, state, and federal compliance, we elevate the waste management experience for manufacturers by being a partner that delivers innovative solutions for many types of residual waste.

Our team of experts provides the most diligent assessment that results in leaner operations, cost savings, time savings, waste reduction, reduced carbon footprint, and better ESG reporting. The NWA team is ready to optimize your facilities by delivering best practice guidance on your entire waste stream, putting time back on the clock and money back into your budget.

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