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    Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing: How to Get Started

    In today’s hyper-competitive manufacturing environment, those who don’t improve risk being left behind. Continuous improvement has long been the goal of a slate of methodologies, including Lean, Six Sigma, and others. But what is continuous improvement in the manufacturing sector? How can a company initiate a journey using best practices and advanced technology to improve and optimize manufacturing processes?

    The Model of Continuous Improvement

    Deeply rooted in the Lean manufacturing movement that grew out of the Toyota Production System (TPS), most process improvement programs follow a model focused on eliminating waste. Waste elimination within several categories can lead to an overall improvement of maintainable processes over time.

    According to the Toyota Production system, there are three categories of waste:


    Muda is a class of waste that focuses on non-value-added work. Muda recognizes two distinct types of activities that don’t add value. The first is part of the production process and impacts the end customer. It’s eliminated if it adds no value to the production process or the customer. If it adds value to the end customer, such as safety checks, then it’s allowed.

    The second type is referred to as the Seven Wastes and includes:

    • Excess Transport
    • Extra Inventory
    • Wasted or Unnecessary Motion
    • Waiting
    • Overproduction
    • Over-Processing
    • Defects


    While Muda focuses on process waste, Mura is centered on capacity issues. It means “unevenness” and can trigger the Seven Wastes listed in Muda. Therefore, one comes from the other, compounding the impact of the waste in question.

    One example would be a midstream process that requires slower processing due to the performance characteristics of the material used. In this case, upstream processes bottleneck and cause delays or excess transport while downstream production processes starve for the material.

    Some industries can address this by using Just-in-Time or Kanban systems to create a pull throughput rather than a push strategy. The goal is to level the work so the production flow evens out.


    Muri focuses on the overburden in the labor aspect of production. While high production rates are every manufacturer’s goal, pushing workers or equipment past their optimum or 100% capacity isn’t sustainable. This waste drives employee issues such as morale, absenteeism, and equipment failure. Lean manufacturing methodology uses standardized work to design and implement sustainable work processes without overburdening people and equipment.

    5 Ways to Achieve Continuous Improvement

    Any company can undertake its continuous improvement journey at any time. But some steps should be followed to ensure that the effort isn’t wasted and that results are maintained.

    Here are five ways to achieve a continuous improvement model in the manufacturing process.

    1. Identify the Objective: To plan the right path for manufacturing process improvements, companies must identify the current state honestly. This identification includes the culture, established production process (both expected and actual), and resources. They must also evaluate key performance indicators and capture what is needed through tools such as value stream mapping and establish the metrics needed to measure performance.
    2. Define the Process: Defining a continuous process improvement means determining who is accountable and responsible for its components. Employees and managers own continuous improvement and how it will impact the initiative; this performance should be monitored. By using checklists and other audit tools, progress is tracked at job, machine, department, and factory levels.
    3. Deploy the Right Tools and Communicate: Lean and Six Sigma methodologies offer a wide range of tools for staff to use. They may be simple visual reinforcements that build on successful tools like 5S charts or Kanban systems. Or, they may be more complex such as fishbone diagrams and other methods used to conduct root cause analysis on the factory floor. Team members must be trained on the proper use of tools and their accuracy should be closely monitored. This ensures that the value of the tools can be utilized and improved tasks become habitual. In turn, this allows a continuous improvement culture to emerge.
    4. Measure Outcomes: The old expression by Peter Drucker that “you can’t improve what you don’t measure” still rings true today. By accurately measuring the outcomes of continuous improvement in manufacturing, new processes are validated. If the plan hasn’t worked, the process can be repeated to find another solution. If it has, the process can be repeated to improve further.
    5. Deploy Digital Improvement: Continuous improvement projects require a lot of documenting, measuring, and tracking. While Lean and other methodologies have created incredible opportunities for the continuous improvement process over the years, manual tracking can be inefficient. Technology in the form of AI and advanced analytics allows access to real-time data in the form of highly accurate production monitoring and analysis. Digital transformations need these software platforms to deliver value because they represent a data stream that would overwhelm the human ability to track and analyze.

    The Importance of IoT Led Technologies in Continuous Improvement

    IoT was made for the Lean manufacturing process. With real-time data capture and analysis, actionable insights can deliver value and increase the effectiveness of improvement projects. It can also uncover hidden trends and unknown hindrances to production.

    Industrial IoT solutions like MachineMetrics enable the autonomous collection, standardization, and contextualization of production data. This provides immediate insight into the performance of an operation, helping manufacturers develop accurate production baselines and identify critical opportunities for improvement.

    With complete visibility, continuous improvement leaders can prioritize initiatives and begin to roll out their model of process improvement. The real-time data collected can also directly drive process optimization and automation by providing the information people and systems need to take action.

    Learn how you can use an Industrial Data Platform to enable a successful continuous improvement program. Explore the most popular use cases for MachineMetrics and the amount of ROI our customers are experiencing in our latest guide: MachineMetrics Top Use Cases and Value Realization.

    Top Use Cases eBook.



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