Four Critical Steps to Lean Execution in Hand Assembly and Kitting


Four Critical Steps to Lean Execution in Hand Assembly and Kitting

Whether your organization is thinking about embarking on a lean journey, or has been at it awhile, here are four steps to consider for integrating lean principles into your hand assembly and kitting operations.

Identifying inefficiencies and waste

Hand assembly and kitting operations are often characterized by intricate, labor-intensive, monotonous tasks. These tasks often introduce various inefficiencies (or waste) into manufacturing processes, especially in multi-process assembly lines. Some of these wastes are among the classic “8 wastes of lean” and include:

  • Waiting -- long lead times to begin assembly, or waiting due to stock-outs (of parts and subassemblies)
  • Inventory -- excessive backlogs that need to be managed
  • Defects -- increase in rework due to quality degradation
  • Motion -- poor use of space and inefficient flow causing wasted motion
  • Over-processing -- due to inflexible scheduling and handling of material
  • Transport -- unnecessary movement of people and materials

However, innovative fulfillment specialists have been able to overcome these constraints by embracing lean principles in key manufacturing and assembly operations. Here are four critical steps that can help transform inefficient hand assembly and kitting into a lean process flow for higher quality and more profitable outcomes.  

Lean kitting

Lean kitting has been proven to address the manufacturing inefficiencies discussed above and then some! The goals behind lean execution in hand assembly and kitting operations is simple:Eliminate waste at all stages of the manufacturing and assembly process while implementing continuous improvement. To do that, four considerations are critical to success:

  1. Lean Movement: A lot of time is wasted on the assembly line when workers have to move from one workstation or storage bin to another in search of missing parts, the correct parts or additional quantities of a part or assembly.  Lean kitting ensures that assembly-line movement, to search and retrieve parts, is eliminated as this role moves to a dedicated material handler.
  2. Lean Transportation: In a hand assembly operation that requires multiple steps, instead of building collections of parts separately, and then transporting them to the assembly line, build all parts within the flow assembly. The first pieces should be continuously fed into the production process. By cutting down on transportation time, you can reduce down-time due to moving piles of materials.
  3. Lean Quality: Defective kit contents will cause defective sub-assemblies, assemblies and final products. The time to weed out defective parts isn’t when the kits are complete – it’s at the time of production of those parts. Considerable amount of waste (time, materials, overhead) can be eliminated throughout the production line by doing the QC process in-line.
  4. Lean Scheduling: Build flexibility in product scheduling – both for machines and labor. Such flexibility should be based on actual customer orders. Build Just in Time, not Just in Case. Focus on reducing make-readies, not on where to store excess inventory that has not yet been ordered by customers.

From matching Sales Orders to Production Orders, and synchronizing order picking to assembly operations, lean execution is all about eliminating waste and unnecessary execution cycles.  And nowhere is there better opportunity for waste elimination than in hand assembly and kitting operations.

Expect these benefits from Lean

A lean kitting workflow system will:

  • Eliminate production bottlenecks
  • Resolve storage and staging workspace issues
  • Streamline material handling processes
  • Build flexibility into your manufacturing and assembly operations
  • Reduce costs associated with inefficiencies and waste

Of course, there may be challenges along the way – like dealing with defective kit contents in the middle of a production line, or staffing the right number of packers. But these challenges are familiar to experienced fulfillment center operators who know well how to handle them. They also can be the focus of future continuous improvement efforts.


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