There has been a lot of discussion about the Toyota Production System, and Lean Manufacturing but I haven’t seen a whole lot about Lean that specifically points to your factory automation and how it can be developed with Lean in mind.
To put it simply, Lean is an all encompassing philosophy that takes the 5M’s (Man, Material, Machines, Methods and Money), and harmonizes or helps orchestrates them together for the best possible outcome in your manufacturing operations. For those of you who may not have been introduced to the 5M’s I’ll give you a brief overview of how I think the 5M’s can be related to Lean Automation.
- Man: You have labor that is required to perform certain tasks to produce your products. If your labor force is not happy you may find your operations struggling. When a direct employee (The ones actually making your company money) interfaces with a piece of equipment they must be comfortable working at a specific station for extended periods of time. Thus, making the factory automation equipment ergonomically compliant will help ensure a safe and productive environment for your direct labor force.
- Methods: Every product has a process or multiple processes that it must go through before it is ready to be delivered as a final product to a customer. The methods used to perform value added work to the product must be consistent and controlled. The machine should verify that each process took place properly and that each part or assembly being processed is correct or meets the quality specifications of the part.
- Machines: Each machine used in a process must be able to perform its intended function or task with precision and reliability. Making machines that are robust, flexible and scale-able are key to following the Toyota Production System mentality. Machines can also include in process inspections, self diagnostics and mistake proofing features that only allow perfect parts to be passed down stream to subsequent process.
- Materials: Every process has materials coming into the work area to be processed or assembled. Making equipment that facilitates easy material flow can pay huge dividends to those who understand that minimizing material movements is vital to being a successful implementer of lean. In-coming and outgoing material flows should be heavily considered when developing an automated solution for use on the shop floor.
- Money: When you invest in a piece of automation/equipment, you must be certain, before purchasing, that it will pay for itself. If the machine solves issues and helps you realize the results you are hoping for in your business, you should see a great payback and realize immediate positive impacts on your bottom line
So the next time you’re looking for some automation, make sure it addresses the 5M’s and you can’t go wrong.