The Right Sequence for Lean Manufacturing Implementation

For a pharmaceutical manufacturer, implementing lean manufacturing can be a fairly seamless and efficient process.  It can also be fraught with resistance, incorrect perceptions and end up only a partial implementation.  The negative perceptions and attitudes that impede a successful, effective implementation of lean manufacturing solutions generally start at the top, and is where lean manufacturing consultants can provide the most effective assistance and guidance.

The manufacturing arena is not viewed by management as being a viable area for gaining a competitive edge.  Indeed, due to shrinking profit margins and increasing cost pressures, companies are increasingly outsourcing their production overseas where costs are lower.  Pharmaceutical executives are reducing the task of cutting costs to a simplistic equation, and outsourcing decisions are often made on nothing more than a comparison between the cost of production at the company’s facility versus the cost of production in the outsourcing country. Is this really the best solution?  Wouldn’t it be better to apply lean manufacturing solutions, eliminate waste, continuously strive for more efficient production processes, and become more responsive to customer demand?

Due to the compartmentalized nature of departments within the pharmaceutical industry there exists a separation between manufacturing and R&D – a separation that has had far-reaching consequences, the weight of which are now being fully felt.  Quality product development, however, depends on input from manufacturing.  Therefore, in accordance with lean manufacturing’s emphasis on seamless, unified production processes, ongoing two-way communication between manufacturing and the lab must be present.

Industry analysts and lean manufacturing consultants suggest that, as a first step, effectiveness should be emphasized over efficiency. However, because the larger cost savings result from efficiency-driven aspects of lean manufacturing implementation, senior managers often want to emphasize efficiency rather than effectiveness right out of the gate.  Although this course of action often does return some initial benefits, it does not foster real long-term success. Early efforts, then, need to focus on the reduction of variability in core manufacturing processes, thereby increasing their quality.  For example, a first step might be to increase preventive maintenance as a means to reduce unplanned downtime later on—a step that enhances effectiveness first in order to promote manufacturing quality and efficiency over the long run.

A complete, successful lean manufacturing implementation requires a shift in paradigm from top to bottom—changing the emphasis to thinking about processes in terms of continuous, ongoing improvement. According to Thomas Friedli (“Operational Excellence: Pharma’s Missed Opportunities,” pharmamanufacturing.com), “This challenge is never really over. [It] is a continuously ongoing journey that requires management attention on each level.” He further states, “To get buy-in on all levels in an operational excellence program it is mandatory that people understand the meaning and objectives of the program. . . . This will ensure that the program is seen as improving the survival and competitiveness of the plant.”

Smart Consulting Group has qualified pharmaceutical consultants with extensive industry-specific experience to guide companies through the process of shifting emphasis and attitudes to achieve an effective lean manufacturing implementation. Their goal is to “provide the competitive edge you need to be the market leader in medical products.”

To learn more about how lean manufacturing strategies can streamline your business and improve your bottom line, visit Smart Lean Manufacturing .

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