© Wrightstudio | Dreamstime.com
Lean Manufacturing 62543fd9095c3

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify with Lean First, Then Automate

April 11, 2022
Five tips for optimizing processes that you may not have considered.

It’s official: The “Great Resignation” is disrupting businesses of all shapes and sizes. So, what are business leaders to do?

A recent study by the Business Development Bank of Canada suggests that one way for employers to attract and retain new talent is to embrace automation. As lean practitioners, this is music to our ears: Process optimization is the backbone of what we do, and it has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for our clients.

Here’s are the top things we consider when we look at opportunities to incorporate automation into simplifying processes.

Would You Want Your Child to Do This Job?

Typically, processes that are highly repetitive and able to be performed independently are candidates for automation. Observe your positions as if they were staffed by your grown children. Would you want to see your child spend their career in that job? If not, it’s time to consider automating that process.

Reducing Part Count and Process Steps

Think about how many parts are required to make your product. Can the design be modified to reduce your total part count? I challenge you to work on the design until you have been able to reduce your part count by 50%. Similarly, when looking at process steps, ask yourself if they can be reduced or even eliminated. In my experience evaluating the start-to-finish of a process, 80% of the time is consumed with non-value-added activities. Look at opportunities to eliminate moves by utilizing chaku-chaku—translated to mean “load-load”—where the output of one process step automatically becomes the input of the next step. Other quick wins typically involve the dramatic reduction of individual inspections into something more holistic and all-encompassing.

Eliminating Product Diversity

Diversity is not an asset in product design. Evaluate how many different types of materials are being used to create your product, and ask yourself whether the design can be consolidated using fewer types of material. Using different materials usually means using different suppliers, which adds time to your process. You can cut down on the number of materials: When I was working at a furniture manufacturer, we used 21 different density types of foam within a single unit when most likely we could have used one or two. Or you can look to eliminate the co-mingling of different materials like metal and plastic, when perhaps a simple design change would allow you to make the item completely from plastic.


Product designers look to optimize application and cost, but not necessarily the availability of parts. When you conduct a design review, can you standardize your parts? Toyota has long been the benchmark of standardization. One KPI Toyota uses is the percentage of vehicle components that can be either assembled or disassembled using only a 13mm wrench.


The toy industry is hyper-competitive and product life cycles are typically short. Why not play with toys to see what ideas can be incorporated into your own design? Safety concerns mean toy parts are carefully considered. Audit toys to simplify your assembly process and reduce your total part count.

Any process can be designed to be automated if you have enough money. But if simplicity has been applied, true automation is beautiful poetry in motion. It’s also easier to manage and less prone to breakdowns. Automation does not get tired. It is not concerned about taking breaks or eating lunch. Automation does not even mind working in the dark.

Once you have simplified your processes, you are now in a position to automate. You’ll also be better positioned to provide employment opportunities that will attract the right talent.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Kunst Solutions Inc.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!