How To Engage Employees in Lean Medical Manufacturing Practices

Part 2 of KMC's "Lean Medical Device Manufacturing" blog series

Aside from the improved cost, time-to-market and quality benefits for KMC customers, the lean medical device manufacturing philosophy in the medical manufacturing process also empowers employees.

KMC Systems Lean Manufacturing Team
 Manufacturing Support Team 

“One of the early concerns with introducing lean practices at KMC was that there may be a reduction in the work force,” David Burns, KMC’s assembly manager, said. “That’s a big misconception. In fact, lean medical device manufacturing actually has the reverse effect. By creating greater efficiencies, there is more opportunity to cross-train and make employees even more valuable to the company and the company more valuable to the employees. The more skill sets an employee has, the more valuable they are.”

After educating personnel about the benefits of lean medical device manufacturing, the next greatest challenge is to to engage them in a way that helps them overcome the initial resistance to change. The key is to take baby steps. We’ve learned that the best results are realized not by forcing change, but by providing employees with appropriate training and management support, and soliciting their input as a way to engage them in the change process. Continuous feedback and leading by example are effective ways to provide mentorship to a team, Burns suggested.

“An example of the lean medical device manufacturing process is to standardize the right tools at the point of use versus having the assembler travel with their tools from one production cell to another as they were accustomed,” Burns explained.

At this stage, there can be a lot of pushback, Burns said, noting that “Most employees have spent years gathering all the tools they needed do their job. Now, we are taking those tools away from them, and, until they are able to visualize what the lean process is designed to do, there is hesitation.”

It's not unusual that the there are challenges along any process that involves change. Following the 5S approach is a proven method for realizing the benefits of lean medical device manufacturing. (see part 1 of this series KMC’s Lean Medical Manufacturing Philosophy, Practice

“At sustainment, protecting your improvements takes discipline to keep with it and mastering it,” Burns said. 

Typically during the implementation of change there are three types of employees:

 1. Those anxious to make a change from day one

 2.  Those who are on the fence.

 3.  Those who want nothing to do with change.

“My focus as a lean medical device manufacturing mentor is to help along those people who want to make the change. They are already anxious and willing. Most of the on-the-fence employees figure it out and are then quickly on board,” Burns said.  

KMC uses the Kaizen model of engaging employees by asking for and implementing their suggestions through an online-approval-based suggestion program ("Kwick Kaizen"). The program then tracks the before-and-after condition and the employees' recommended fixes.  This system is available for all employees to review changes and gain better insight from others’ suggestions as well.

“Seeing our employees engage, and embracing the development of their own and others' improvement ideas, for me, is the best part of the lean medical device manufacturing learning process,” Burns concluded.

Read part 1 of KMC/s lean medical manufacturing blog series.

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Topics: medical device contract manufacturer, medical device lean manufacturing, medical device manufacturers, lean manufacturing, medical device manufacturing, lean medical device manufacturing