As the world adjusts to a new way of conducting business amid the coronavirus pandemic, manufacturers are feeling the strain of keeping up with a dramatic increase in demand. Whether producers of food and consumer products or equipment for other business production, the current challenge is how to increase capacity using existing assets and a potentially reduced workforce.

With lead times of new capital equipment extending out six to 12 months or more, simply expanding capital resources isn’t a feasible solution. Instead, implementing Lean Six Sigma principles in existing processes offers an opportunity for simple solutions that can quickly and cost-effectively increase output.

Simple Solutions With Vast Benefits

Focused on making an immediate impact on a manufacturer’s bottom line, Lean Six Sigma offers ways to increase throughput, improve quality, reduce or eliminate bottlenecks and constraints, and increase capacity with little or no capital investment.

Traditionally, before the age of social distancing, this process would begin with a lean assessment walkthrough on-site. Within a matter of hours, a certified Lean Six Sigma professional could evaluate needs and identify solutions. Fortunately, this process can also be conducted virtually, if needed, through a live video tour combined with facility layouts and staff interviews. Though this virtual process may require a few more steps to gather the information necessary for recommendations, it can still turn around valuable insight and actionable feedback within hours.  

To identify the quickest solutions with the highest return on investment, these assessments typically look for ways to interconnect processes that can increase worker efficiency. How work is scheduled within the facility is also a factor, evaluating how materials are batched and determining if smaller batching could keep product flowing through the facility faster. Opportunities to level-set the operation are also considered, whether it’s a machining or assembly operation, to make product flow smoothly through the process, as well as quickly.

The solutions to these scenarios do not need to be monumental changes, especially now. Often, the simplest solution can have a big impact by eliminating waste and replacing it with predictability. For example, if a worker routinely walks 30 feet to pick up a component and bring it to a workstation, eliminating that unnecessary back and forth can increase the worker’s effectiveness exponentially — and cost nothing to execute. Further, marking material flow right to the point of use increases the employee’s overall effectiveness.   

ROI to Expand On

While implementing lean principles will help manufacturers meet capacity issues now, the benefits garnered and enhancements made are also a launch point for further improvements. These solutions are meant to be sustainable and continuously improved upon, providing instant payback with each piece produced as gains are made throughout the value stream.

In addition, working alongside a Lean Six Sigma team can help train a manufacturer’s internal staff on what to look for on an ongoing basis, and how to make quick and effective adjustments. By being armed with this indispensable knowledge and experience at such a critical time, manufacturers can take advantage of a difficult situation now while developing an efficient methodology to build on.


Learn more about the Lean Six Sigma evaluation process and how it can provide efficiencies now and in the future with shorter lead times, better on-time delivery, faster cash conversion and greater product control.

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Chris Williams is a lean manufacturing and industrial engineering manager at Burns & McDonnell. He has broad-based knowledge of Lean Six Sigma processes and techniques and is a certified Master Black Belt. In his current role, Chris leads continuous improvement projects for a variety of clients across a wide range of industries, including ammunition, armaments, aerospace, consumer products, oil and gas equipment, and medical devices.