Being Lean

Imprint Plus™ Name Badge Lean Manufacturing Principles

Imprint Plus is Lean certified

Imprint Plus™ is a woman owned and operated company and was introduced to “lean” will tell you that “lean” is a manufacturing philosophy that focuses on delivering value to customers by minimizing waste.   Value can be defined as anything the customer says it is, or rather anything that customers are willing to pay for.  Waste is everything else, or the stuff the customer won’t be willing to pay for. The concept of preserving value with less work is the backbone of “lean,” and the goal we set for ourselves at Imprint Plus™.

Imprint Plus™ was introduced to “lean” in the summer of 2010 through the Canadian Manufacturer’s & Exporters Pull Ahead BC program which provided basic training on “lean” concepts.  In the fall of 2011, we were mentored by another company, Moulding & Millwork, who had been applying “lean” in their workplace for several years.  Hands-on training in improvement activity resulted in an immediate impact on Imprint Plus™.  In a one week period, Kaizens (Japanese for “small improvements for the better”) were carried out in our screen-printing, packing, storage, and shipping areas.  As a direct result of these activities, we carted out 5 tonnes of junk, 145 cartons of paper, implemented two Kanban systems (“pull” systems), 3 Standard Operating Procedures, and made some initial layout changes.  More importantly, we started to understand the concept of “lean” as it was applied to Imprint Plus™ in a tangible way, and to see opportunity in terms of small, continuous improvements.   From that exercise came an in-house “lean” steering committee, an active calendar of Kaizen activity, and an ongoing training program that has resulted in one black belt, two green belts and twenty yellow belt “lean” practitioners with plans to train the entire company.

Waste reduction thinking is now an integral part of the corporate culture at Imprint Plus™. Today we’re continually looking for, finding and removing waste from our processes, systems, space, activities, materials – everything we do.

History of “Lean”

“Lean” manufacturing is a management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS is renowned for its focus on reduction of the original Toyota “seven wastes” to improve overall customer value, but there are varying perspectives on how this is best achieved. The steady growth of Toyota from a small company to the world’s largest auto manufacturer has focused attention on how it has achieved this.

For many, “lean” is in the set of “tools” that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste. As waste is eliminated quality improves while production time and cost are reduced. Examples of such “tools” are Value Stream Mapping, Five S, Kanban systems, and poka-yoke (“error-proofing”).

There is a second approach to “lean” manufacturing, which is promoted by Toyota, in which the focus is upon improving the flow or smoothness of work, thereby steadily eliminating mura (“unevenness”) through the system and not upon ‘waste reduction’ per se. Techniques to improve flow include production levelling, pull production by means of Kanban and the Heijunka box (“visual scheduling” box). This is a fundamentally different approach from most improvement methodologies, which may partially account for its lack of popularity.

The difference between these two approaches is not the goal itself, but rather the prime approach to achieving it. The implementation of smooth flow exposes quality problems that already existed, and thus waste reduction naturally happens as a consequence. The advantage claimed for this approach is that it naturally takes a system-wide perspective, whereas a waste focus sometimes wrongly assumes this perspective.


Imprint Plus™ Waste Reduction Effort: Motion

Motion waste is unnecessary movement of people.  We had unnecessary movement of order packers looking for specific sizes of our insert sheets.  We have 66 different types of insert sheets but, as you can see on the before picture below, we had not set up the inventory in a way that made it easy for the packers to find and identify the specific insert sheets required for any particular order. Further, multiple cartons of the same item were opened at the same time, making inventory management and control a challenge.   As a result, the packers spent non valued-added time climbing and searching through different boxes looking for specific items. The after picture shows the inventory clearly labelled and organized by item, with a circle sticker identifying which box to draw from.  This improvement allowed the packers to pick insert sheets for orders using less motion.

Imprint Plus™ “Lean” Initiative Before and After Photo


Imprint Plus™ Waste Reduction Effort: Overproduction

The waste of overproduction is producing more inventory than you need to satisfy customer requirements and making it before you truly need it.  Excess inventory uses up finance, storage and administration resources; sometimes excess inventory can be held so long that it becomes obsolete and has to be thrown away altogether.  We had excess inventory in some of our screen printed products, so we implemented a kanban pull system to alleviate the inventory issues.  Production of the screen printed products may now determined by their use, and the items are replenished only when they reach a certain level as indicated by the kanban card (white card in the after picture), thereby reducing excess inventory.


Imprint Plus™ Lean Initiative – Overproduction

Additional Waste Reduction Opportunities

There are 6 more types of waste that “lean” practitioners look for:

  1. Transportation: Moving products that are not actually required to perform the processing
  2. Re-work: Redoing work that was already done by someone else
  3. Untapped Human potential
  4. Inventory: All components finished product not being processed
  5. Waiting: Waiting for the next production step
  6. Defects: The effort involved in inspecting for and fixing defects

Imprint Plus™ has the opportunity to to discover  and address all these types of waste.  Once you have your “lean-lens” on, everywhere you look in your business you will see an opportunity to address waste.

Imprint Plus™ President and resident “lean” black belt Kristin MacMillan will be sharing more “lean” stories and tips as part of the Imprint Plus Badge Blog. We hope you’ll follow her there, and be as inspired by “lean” as we are!




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