Neil Fedden takes a look at the benefits that can be derived from implementing a lean strategy

It has been widely reported in the media that since the Brexit Referendum in 2016, companies within the manufacturing and engineering sectors have been faced with an increasing number of issues as the Brexit deadline approaches. The uncertainty and divisions within Government as to what the final outcome will be is certainly not helping the situation, as the recent MHA Manufacturing & Engineering Survey reported that:

  • 66 per cent of respondents cannot plan for the impact of Brexit until they know the Government’s strategy and EU response
  • 92 per cent of respondents expect their production costs to rise over the next 12 months
  • 89 per cent of respondents are finding it difficult to recruit staff
  • 20 per cent of respondents are already losing staff to the Brexit effect</liL

There are a number of actions that companies can take to mitigate the impact of Brexit, such as developing new markets, new products and services and new sales. However, they also need to get the most value they can from their current operations and all of the resources in a business can be used more efficiently and effectively by implementing a Lean strategy that is fine-tuned to that particular business. The use of Lean and Continuous Improvement business techniques can work for businesses of all sizes, across all sectors, but it works most effectively in the manufacturing and engineering sectors because of the nature of the work they undertake.

Productivity improvements through Lean not only help to create the capacity to develop new markets and products, but also help to cope with potential short-term opportunities that any drop in the value of the Pound presents during these volatile times. The UK based supply chain has become more price competitive because of this, but companies do not want to investment to increase capacity if this demand is only short term. Lean/Business Improvement Techniques help to increase capacity with little capital investment enabling a company to take full advantage of new opportunities and then potentially use it as a means to win new customers.

Selecting delegates keen to learn Lean techniques is a good starting point for any company wishing to adopt a Lean way of working. One route is for the delegates to be trained in LEAN Operations – Business Improvement Techniques (BITs) Adult Apprenticeship Level 2. This training aims to deliver real and sustainable business benefits in terms of improved process efficiencies, reduced lead times and improved problem-solving capabilities.

At the same time, it delivers a benefit to the individual in terms of a nationally recognised qualification, a sense of ownership in the business and improved morale. The resulting improvements are sustained due to the continuous involvement of the training company, like Fedden USP who deliver Lean training in conjunction with MIT Skills, over a longer period of time, usually 12 months.

If a company contributes towards the Apprenticeship Levy introduced by the Government in April 2017, this can potentially be used to cover the cost of the qualification.

The BITs course consists of an initial six-day Lean Workshop (normally one day per month), which is then supported by ten to 12 visits of individual mentoring. The Adult Apprenticeship qualification is then awarded based on a candidate’s ability to demonstrate working in a team to deliver a tangible improvement to operational performance; this could include improvements in productivity, reduced process lead times or a reduction in wasted activities.
Some of the topics covered over the six days training include:

  • The basic principles of Lean Operations
  • Putting together effective improvement teams
  • 5S and Workplace Organisation Techniques
  • Staff-led Continuous Improvement Techniques
  • Process Mapping/Process Flow Analysis with the aim of improving productivity
  • Lead time analysis to reduce lead times
  • Applying problem solving techniques on a daily basis
  • Creating Standard Operating Procedures to capture best practice
  • Waste Walks to identify wasteful activities
  • Preparing Improvement Plans

Depending on what is required by a particular company, there are also other forms of Lean training available such as 6 Sigma, 8D Problem Solving Techniques and Lean Office, to name just three. Manufacturing companies regularly involve office staff in the training as they recognise that the operational improvements are dependent on supporting processes being improved as well.

Companies generally see an increase in productivity once they adopt a Lean approach to their operations and it is worth noting that some of the most productive companies in the UK reward staff for increased skills levels related to continuous improvement and leadership activities and this can easily be adopted.

With improved quality comes improved efficiency, productivity and the elimination of wasteful activities, certainly once Lean and Continuous Improvement techniques are fully implemented. As a result, in time, less resource will be required and the bottom-line performance of the business improved. It’s not unusual for a business that has undertaken the LEAN Operations six-day workshop to see potential savings of £50k.

Over the last 12 years Fedden USP has helped many small and medium sized manufacturing and engineering companies to successfully implement Lean and Continuous Improvement techniques; large ‘household name’ companies have also benefited such as Bosch, Ford and Siemens Magnet Technology. In fact, Siemens Magnet Technology won the Best Factory of the Year Award in 2015 and its Operations Director at the time firmly believed that Lean working gave the company the edge over its competitors on the night.

Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, implementing Lean techniques in any manufacturing business can only have a positive impact on the future of that business as it leads to improvements in every area of the business. It allows a company to assess every operation, from its back-office administration, logistics and sales functions, to its shop floor processes and procedures with a view to making them more efficient and effective. It also provides senior management with a tool to assess inefficient practices that have developed over time.

Lean also has many benefits for the employees of an organisation as everyone gets the opportunity to buy into it. Staff feel more engaged and listened to by their employer, so morale is increased, which makes Lean a valuable tool for staff retention.

Brexit poses many challenges to the UK economy, but equally it presents opportunities and the companies that capitalise on these and incorporate a Lean Strategy into their operations will be the ones that thrive in the future as the benefits of Lean working will continue well after Brexit has been consigned to history!

Neil Fedden
Neil Fedden is Managing Director and Principal Consultant of Fedden USP. Fedden USP uses a unique combination of tried and tested improvement techniques from best-in-class companies, such as Lean from the Japanese automotive industry combined with innovative thinking from the UK’s Design Sector, to evaluate the way businesses are run. It helps these businesses improve service levels, productivity and increase innovation, which ultimately increases bottom-line profit.