Lean manufacturing can help companies eliminate waste, reduce costs, and improve timeliness. However, is it a critical key to success in medical device manufacturing? In this month's Perspectives, industry leaders share their thoughts on lean manufacturing and also share their own experiences with this concept.

Is lean manufacturing a primary key to success for medical device manufacturers and what has been your company's experiences with it?

President, Avicenna Technology Inc.

The implementation of a sustainable improvement system that eliminates waste is a necessary prerequisite for any business looking to succeed in today's marketplace. But lean manufacturing is not enough.

Lean's focus on the manufacturing floor leaves out many elements of an enterprise that are critical to business success. From my perspective as a business leader, the primary key to success is cash flow. Traditional implementation of lean can result in narrowly focused activities that jeopardize cash. A manufacturing process that has been thoroughly optimized via lean can work against cash management when measured by machine utilization and allowed to produce oversized batches.

An improvement mechanism based on Theory of Constraints (TOC) can cure what ails the manufacturing floor while contributing to a healthy cash position. A company using TOC measures its ability to buy, build, and sell quickly. Anything that slows down this enterprise-wide flow is a constraint that needs to be removed. In this context, constraints are not only in manufacturing, but also exist in purchasing, engineering, sales, marketing, etc. A business that eliminates constraints can offer the right medical device to the market at the right time and reduce all types of waste that threaten cash flow.

Director, SPM Production and BPS, B. Braun Medical Inc.

Since being embraced at B. Braun several years ago, lean manufacturing practices have transformed the way our company views its production processes. The concept of finding efficiencies and removing wasteful, non-value-added steps helps us remain cost-competitive while ensuring consistent levels of quality. Additionally, it has brought our teams closer together. Periodic Kaizen events empower individuals at all levels to offer ideas and improve the production process.

Lean manufacturing ideals have also redoubled our focus on customers' needs and requirements. It is impossible to streamline processes without considering how changes will impact our ability to meet deadlines and quality metrics. Internal communication has been enhanced as well; consistent information flow is required to ensure that process improvements are being addressed.

At B. Braun, we see lean manufacturing principles as critical in our never-ending efforts to modernize and optimize our processes. They force us to look at things differently, to uncover new and innovative ways of meeting customer needs. We're convinced lean manufacturing will make us an even more valuable partner for years to come.

Executive VP, Boyd Coatings Research Co. Inc.

Without question, lean manufacturing principles are a primary key to the future success of medical device manufacturers due to increasing cost and the reality that the industry is in a highly competitive global market.

We at Boyd Coatings Research are taking on the challenge and are trying to view the changes required of lean in a very positive manner. As a company, we decided that our first step to lean was to establish "Quality" as the responsibility of each and every employee, starting from the top. We substantiate this in all of our meetings and it is one of the key parts of our mission statement. As a reminder to all, we have clearly posted on all doors heading towards shipping signs that state, "If you are not proud of it don't ship it." But what drives the lean initiative for us is focusing our energy on trying to eliminate waste, reduce time on the jobs, and reduce total cost. We address these areas weekly within departmental meetings. Department heads and a few key employees are faced with the same three challenges as we attempt to eliminate non- lean methods.

Lean does not work if all the employees are not on-board with the concept and understand what it means to the success of the company. We have found that one of the easiest methods to clearly communicate with little effort is by using photos. We use labels and arrows, in addition to writing whatever is needed onto the photos. This clearly delineates the issues at hand and it is a great motivator when you are viewing a "before and after" shot that pinpoints improvements. Another key to managing lean is to make sure assignments are tracked and not forgotten. We track and monitor all assignments and ensure that action items are completed or delegated to the appropriate individual within each department. Results are not seen overnight; at times, issues cannot be addressed within one department alone, but once the wheel is in motion, the systems starts to produce a noticeable change.

A continuous improvement mindset is essential to reach a company's goals and lean has to be part of it. The elimination of waste is the goal of lean and Boyd Coatings Research is on board.

Linear Motion and Assembly Technologies, Bosch Rexroth

It is. But I would go a step further and say that it's not just a matter of implementing lean techniques and principles; it's critical to embrace lean manufacturing as a culture. Otherwise, it's almost too easy to implement a new workcell or a 5S program and say that you're lean, and not continue to improve beyond that. In a true lean culture, once you've made improvements, you've made a new "current state" that is now subject to additional improvements. It's this dedication to continuous improvement, waste reduction, and process streamlining that will give medical device manufacturers an edge. Remember: Everyone is trying to get lean right now, but few will make the commitment to pursue it relentlessly.

Why commit to lean? Embracing lean gives you greater control by making information about performance very visible. It gives employees greater control over their processes and opportunities to improve them. It's a proven, systematic approach to continuous improvement. But most importantly, it will improve profitability and your company's long-term viability. And those are two very good things in the current economic climate.