Lean Execution in Hand Assembly and Kitting

Hand assembly and kitting-reliant operations are often characterized by intricate, labor-intensive, monotonous tasks. This combination of elements often injects various inefficiencies into manufacturing processes, especially in multi-process assembly lines, including:

  • Longer-than-necessary lead times
  • Increased stock-outs (of parts and sub-assemblies)
  • Excessive backlogs
  • Quality degradation
  • Poor use of space
  • Rigid to inflexible scheduling and handling of material

However, savvy fulfillment specialists have been able to overcome all those constraints by embracing lean execution principles in key manufacturing and assembly operations. Here are four critical steps that need to be considered to transform any inefficient hand assembly and kitting process.

Lean Kitting

Lean kitting has been proven to address all of 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; and implement continuous improvement across every assembly line.

Four Critical Steps to Lean Execution in Hand Assembly and Kitting

  1. Lean Movement: A lot of time is wasted on the assembly line when workers have to move from one work-station 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 restricted to bare minimum
  2. Lean Transportation: In a hand assembly operation that requires multiple steps, instead of kitting parts separately, and then transporting them individually, build a collection of kits that are continuously fed into the production process. By cutting down on transportation time, you can affect reduction in down-time due to kit shortages
  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 kitting them – 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 taking steps to enhance QA processes governing production of kit contents (i.e. individual parts that go into a kit).
  4. Lean scheduling: Build flexibility in product scheduling – both for machines and labour. Such flexibility should be based on capacity and demand, which must then be tied into scheduling kitting activity. Always resist the temptation to schedule based on full capacity. Consider moving workforce between production facilities so that they can be more efficiently used where real demand (not forecasts) exists.

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 no where is there better opportunity for waste elimination than is hand assembly and kitting operations.

A proper kitting system will not only eliminate production bottlenecks, but will also help resolve storage and staging workspace issues, streamline material handling processes and help build flexibility into manufacturing and assembly operations. Of course, there will be challenges along the way – like dealing with defective kit contents in the middle of a production line; or considerations for storing kits that are produced well ahead of actual consumption. But these are operational issues that experienced fulfillment center operators know well how to handle.