Man Welding Round Window Frame

Lean Six Sigma within the Manufacturing Industry: Case Studies 

Canadian enterprises are consistently integrating Lean Six Sigma initiatives with notable achievements. When executed strategically and with foresight, Lean Six Sigma activities typically result in reducing inefficiencies, eliminating waste, and enhancing profitability. This versatile methodology can be tailored to address various business obstacles, offering a systematic approach to organizational enhancement. 

This blog outlines case studies exemplifying the use of Lean Six Sigma strategies to eliminate outdated business procedures that failed to meet contemporary market norms. These entities revamped their operations, resulting in immediate improvements to both revenue generation and profitability. If you are in the manufacturing industry, this blog can be a helpful resource for gaining inspiration to build out your own Lean Six Sigma process.  

This is the third blog of a three part series:
Part 1: Canadian Guide to Lean Manufacturing
Part 2: How to Use the DMAIC Framework for Lean Manufacturing
Part 3: Lean Six Sigma within the Manufacturing Industry: Case Studies

Case 1: Increasing Capacity and Production Output 

An Ontario manufacturer embarked on its journey with automated technologies over 15 years ago by adopting a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) machining cell equipped with one machine and a 16-pallet system. The immediate surge in productivity from this single equipment propelled the company into an expansion phase, necessitating a move to a larger facility. 

The new facility offered ample space for innovative technologies, leading to the installation of additional computer numerical control (CNC) machines to enhance unattended operations. This resulted in a threefold increase in automated production capacity prompting the company’s operating costs to decrease by 20%, while output surged by an impressive 375%. Further efficiencies were achieved with the acquisition of a machine-tending robot, which streamlined the loading and unloading of parts onto the CNC machine, boosting output by an additional 67% and facilitating round-the-clock production. 

Subsequent equipment enhancements included the deployment of a robotic deburring machine, addressing the strenuous deburring process previously handled by human labor. Automating this process not only reduced post-processing costs by 30% but also contributed to increased productivity and employee morale. 

To optimize information flow across departments, the manufacturer implemented an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, enabling seamless unattended operations and facilitating “lights-out” production, resulting in the creation of hundreds of units without human intervention. 

Case 2: Re-Imagining Organizational Structure 

For over four decades, a Canadian welder and fabricator specializing in custom-designed industrial equipment witnessed remarkable growth and success. Originating as a small-scale job shop catering to the oil and gas sector, the company evolved from crafting individual pieces to producing hundreds of bespoke products annually. 

Despite this trajectory, the journey was not without its challenges. Early expansions exposed inefficiencies in processes, leading to diminished operational effectiveness and customer satisfaction. Following a transition to a larger facility, inadequate floor space and suboptimal processes precipitated a decline in performance, exacerbated by the economic downturn of 2009, which served as a catalyst for significant organizational restructuring. 

The Lean Six Sigma transformation commenced with a systematic evaluation of existing processes, identifying inefficiencies, and laying the groundwork for streamlining and standardization. Implementation of 5S principles instilled order and cleanliness in the work environment, fostering a culture of continuous improvement. 

Beyond process enhancements, the management team undertook a comprehensive reorganization, realigning roles and responsibilities to support the newly optimized workflows. The shop floor underwent a complete redesign to facilitate function-based process flows, promoting collaboration among work teams and enhancing productivity while minimizing safety risks. 

Notably, the ethos of operational excellence permeated the organization, with enthusiastic employee engagement driving the adoption of 5S methodologies and fostering a culture of innovation, where novel improvement ideas originated from the shop floor. 

Case 3: Energy Efficiency & Sustainable Process  

An Ontario-based cement producer found escalating energy costs were eroding their profits, particularly during the early to mid-2000s. With nearly half of their production expenses allocated to energy, they recognized the need to mitigate these costs to remain competitive regionally and globally, and embarked on a proactive strategy. 

In 2009, the company engaged a local energy consultant to develop a comprehensive energy management program. Swift implementation of this initiative yielded tangible improvements in the production process. Notably, a significant transformation occurred with the shift of production to off-peak hours, capitalizing on lower energy costs during these periods. This strategic adjustment resulted in a notable reduction in energy expenses as a proportion of overall production costs, thereby enhancing competitiveness and preserving a larger share of revenues. 

Moreover, conducting production cycles during nighttime facilitated more frequent cleaning and machine maintenance during daytime hours, contributing to additional cost savings and minimizing machine downtime. 

The adoption of Lean Six Sigma principles in this endeavor underscores the efficacy of structured problem-solving methodologies in addressing complex operational challenges. The results speak volumes: approximately $10 million in energy-related production costs were saved, and approximately 32,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions were eliminated over an eight-year period. 

This case exemplifies the symbiotic relationship between Lean Six Sigma methodologies and government funding initiatives in driving sustainable business practices and fostering economic growth. Leveraging government grants and loans to support continuous improvement projects not only mitigates financial constraints but also aligns with national objectives of enhancing competitiveness, revenue generation, and environmental sustainability. 

Funding Opportunities for Lean Six Sigma Projects  

There are several manufacturing grants available to support your manufacturing processes. Learn more below about which types of funding are available to subsidize your next project. 

Business Expansion Funding  

Lean Six Sigma initiatives play a pivotal role in identifying opportunities for business expansion. Through meticulous performance analysis and demand forecasting, lean organizations streamline operations to effectively manage growth. Common strategies involve expanding or relocating production facilities, particularly for organizations that have bolstered profitability through operational improvements. These endeavors are supported by a range of funding programs across Canada, offering grants and loans to enhance internal processes, increase output, and facilitate market expansion, including financial assistance for trade show participation and export activities.  

Visit our Business Expansion Funding directory to find the appropriate business expansion funding program for your project.  

Funding for Technology Adoption 

While Lean Six Sigma emphasizes continuous improvement, integrating innovative technologies can expedite growth. New technological advancements complement lean methodologies by enhancing efficiencies beyond traditional improvement strategies. Investments in robotics and advanced manufacturing equipment are instrumental in optimizing operations and minimizing waste. Technology grants and loans are available at both provincial and federal levels, tailored to key industries to foster technological innovation and competitiveness. 

Explore our Capital & Tech Adoption Funding Directory to learn more about available grant programs to support your manufacturing business.  

Funding for Hiring and Training 

A skilled and motivated workforce is essential for implementing a lean culture within an organization. Hiring and training initiatives are integral components of Lean Six Sigma projects, ensuring consistent delivery of quality products and services. Proactive recruitment and training efforts mitigate talent gaps and establish succession plans. Government grants offset wage costs for new hires, particularly youth, and subsidize training programs to cultivate a skilled workforce. These grants cover internal and third-party training initiatives, supporting ongoing skill development and organizational growth. 

Onboard the right members and train them to become highly skilled with Hiring & Training funding programs. You can upskill your labor without incurring new costs. 

Funding for Research and Development 

Research and development underpin the foundation of Lean Six Sigma projects, driving sustainable performance improvements. Formalizing the research and development process enables businesses to leverage insights for growth and innovation. Grants for research and development projects are available nationwide, fostering collaboration between businesses and academic institutions to spur innovation. These programs accelerate operational strengths through innovative research, with government funding catalyzing the R&D process and fostering long-term organizational resilience. 

The Canadian government highly prioritizes Research and Development projects. There are many funding options available to upgrade your processes – explore our directory today. 

Develop a Proactive Funding Plan  

Lean Six Sigma project plans provide a great starting point to launch a sustainable business development strategy, but these plans will not happen if the right actions are not taken. Developing a Proactive Funding Plan for continuous improvement helps align government funding so that lean projects can be completed more frequently. 

Download our free guide on how to Build A Government Funding Plan. With this slide deck, business executives will be able to identify projects and priorities well-suited for funding; apply for funding programs at the best time possible; and understand government impacts required for funding approval. 

Canadian Business Plans Strategy Guide 

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