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'Lean tools' hammer waste, improve processes

  • Published
  • By Linda Canter
  • AFMC Strategic Plans and Programs Directorate
Many people within Air Force Materiel Command associate toolboxes with maintenance-oriented jobs. However, with the renewed emphasis on continuous improvement, more people are turning to their "Lean" toolbox.

This toolbox contains various Lean improvement tools that are part of Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century. AFSO21, as it is more commonly known, is an overarching strategy to improve how the Air Force accomplishes daily tasks. Its goal is to make processes more standardized, effective and efficient.

Lean, by itself, is a thought process to identify waste from the customer's perspective and then determine how to eliminate that waste. That is where the Lean toolbox comes into play. It contains concepts and techniques designed to help the Air Force with its improvement strategy.

Among the common Lean tools being used as part of AFSO21 are:

Value Stream Mapping
VSM is a technique that identifies waste within a process. It focuses resources on issues that will make the most significant process improvements. The VSM quickly defines the sequential process steps and data pertinent to each of the steps as well as overall metrics relating to the entire process. The map also shows how information flows, where rework occurs and where there may be quality issues within the process.
Rapid Improvement Events
RIE is a short-term, high-intensity effort tool used to improve a specific problem. The event's focus may span two or three days, a week, or several months. The event typically requires several weeks of preparation before and follow-up time after the event.

Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Sustain and Safety
A 6S event involves more than cleaning up the work area. Done correctly, 6S can be a quick and effective method to eliminate wasted motion in a work area and establish better visual management methods in the work area. By having better visual management, people can then identify when something within the process is abnormal.

Standard Work
Standard Work is more of a foundation process. Before the Lean workplace can be established, work must be standardized and stabilized. Standard Work reflects the best practice to accomplish a task as we know today. The best practice then becomes the target to improve upon. Three elements of Standard Work are the pace at which the work must be performed to keep pace with customer demand; sequence of process steps to accomplish the work; and material needed by an individual to accomplish the work.

Use of Lean tools helps AFMC deliver war winning capability with less non-value added work that reduces cycle times. Lean tools not only enable Airmen to examine how to improve each task they perform, but also ask why things are done that way in the first place.

(Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)