Starting a Lean Journey: Where we're at & where we're heading

Born from an international manufacturer that embraces Kaizen manufacturing principals, Facteon has inherited these principals. Over time, our business has evolved. With new opportunities and personnel, we decided that it was time to re-examine the state of our operations. The lean principles on which we were founded must inform every stage of our business’ operations. The journey to get back in touch with our lean roots started in June 2019.

Facteon is a designer and builder of custom production machinery for manufacturers across the globe. To complement our automated production lines, we have developed Industrial IoT (IIoT) software and hardware products for the optimisation of a single machine through to a factory. We also operate an in-house Machine Shop specialising in the manufacture of complex, bespoke components. At Facteon, our lean journey is focused on reducing waste in every part of our business. 

What motivated Facteon to start its lean journey?

“Your customer only pays for the value you deliver”.

The process of turning the lens toward yourself can be a daunting. At Facteon, we found process inefficiencies can seem insignificant in isolation. Staff become comfortable working around problems. When the work stream is reviewed, we can see that the delay of “just a few hours” impacts the workflow throughout the business, resulting in waste. With a customer only paying for value, this isn’t a cost you can simply pass on, it’s a drain on both time and money.

Through reducing waste, we not only decrease our costs and delivery times, we also significantly improve the customer experience.  

What are the key challenges Facteon has faced on this journey to date?

Facteon has a long-standing relationship with Fisher & Paykel Appliances, so our business has lean manufacturing roots. As we’re a project-based business, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of improving company processes and efficiencies in favour of prioritising the short-term project goals. This is where it’s important to keep your team focused on the bigger picture.

The symbolic Kaizen image of pushing a ball up a hill rings true. It’ll roll backward unless it’s underpinned along the way with robust systems and structures.

Most of the team understands the importance of these systems. However, as a project-based business that operates at a fast tempo, it can be difficult to convince the project team that our customers will benefit from us stopping to examine our processes.

While we may not always be able to apply improvements during a project, it is important to have the discipline to capture the opportunity to implement retrospective improvements. This will ensure you avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

It’s like the flat tire on your car. You should only use the spare to get to a mechanic. Then, you need to fix the issue before you can continue your journey. Like a car, a business can only continue to operate with a band-aid fix in the short term. It’s also likely your speed of project delivery and quality will be compromised while a band-aid fix is in play.

Throughout a project it is also important that a disciplined approach is maintained, ensuring deliverables are met at each milestone. Shortcuts inevitably lead to delays and extra cost in the long run.  

Employee buy-in is important and staff need to understand the fundamental purpose and motivation behind the initiative. Getting your staff involved in conversations about your lean journey as early as possible is key. By tackling the topic head-on and before rumours swirl, your staff feel informed. Most people are motivated by feeling as if they’re contributing to and are part of the change.

Setting up your approach to lean is important at these early stages. Your team will be wondering whether this is just a flash in the pan or if this signals real business change. Their views on lean at the early stages will affect that all important early engagement (or lack of).

Where is Facteon currently on its lean journey?

We’re at the early stages, only two months in. This is the training and analysis stage for us. We’ve established a Lean Journey Committee with reps from across the business who meet every three weeks for formal training. They leave each training session with homework to complete.

We have a wall dedicated to our lean journey. The Lean Journey Committee mapped out Facteon’s business processes. We invited every member of staff to post Opportunity for Improvements (OFIs) on the lean wall. The position of each OFI indicated where they believed waste was occurring.

The process of adding OFIs to the lean wall was completed in small groups, each led by a member of the Lean Journey Committee.

Prior to inviting the team to add OFIs to the lean wall, each staff member engaged in a lean education session. This focused on the key principles of lean and the seven forms of waste.

Looking ahead, the learning and set up process is nine months in length. This will be followed by two years of embedding the lean processes in our business.

From that point, we’ll seek to ingrain lean in our business culture. If people leave, the lean methodologies remain so we can keep delivering for our customers.

What advice do you have for a manufacturer looking to start its lean journey?

Bring in a reputable external consultant to lead your team. Make sure that this person not only teaches the tools of lean but is also committed to embedding a sustainable framework in your business.

You may know everything there is to know about lean but your viewpoint and ability to influence will always be limited within your own organisation. An external consultant isn’t bound by hierarchies, office politics and notions of business as usual. They’ll cut through the noise, keep the team focused and put systems in place that’ll future-proof your operations by entrenching lean methodologies during this pivotal set up processes.

Start your lean journey with purpose, confidence and clarity. That’ll give your business the best chance of succeeding.

I’ll be back in the coming months with an update on how Facteon’s lean journey progresses. Wish us luck.

About Facteon

An international designer, builder and innovator of world-class production equipment. As a long established and widely respected organisation, we operate on the forward edge of smart manufacturing, robotics, data science, machine learning technology and IIoT solutions. We aspire to cultivate a smart manufacturing ecosystem in which machinery and software offerings interact seamlessly to maximise operational performance.

Brad Abraham

Brad Abraham

Head of Operations

Brad is a mechanical engineer with a background in the aerospace industry. He joined Fisher & Paykel in 1994 and has held a variety of roles in areas such as Machine and Product Design, and Business Development. His current role as Facteon's Head of Operations is focused on ensuring our customers’ projects are delivered on-time and to specification.