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Implementing Lean Manufacturing Principles in Quinn Packaging

As a responsible manufacturer, we have a duty to reduce waste wherever possible across our business, both the physical waste which comes from the manufacturing process, and that which is less tangible; the lost time and wasted effort, the waste which can be difficult to identify and subsequently, to reduce.

When it comes to physical waste, we’ve always strived to keep this to a minimum throughout our business, with sustainable manufacturing a core principal of our company. With a variety of production processes in place here at Quinn Packaging, there is potential to see a lot of unnecessary waste, but our Eco-Innovation Programme has ensured this has been reduced significantly, so the by-product of each process is returned into the manufacturing loop wherever possible. With less than 0.5% of incoming polymer not returned to the process, we’ve successfully refined our operations to achieve a closed loop process.

Satisfied with the success of our efforts in reducing physical product waste, our attention turned to our operations. How could we improve our processes and our physical working environment to become a more efficient and less wasteful business? Eliminating waste leads to improved quality, increased productivity, and reduced costs, clearly benefitting both our business and our customers.

The process of implementing Lean Manufacturing is an ongoing one given its very nature of continuous improvement, but the structure we’ve implemented over the last few years to improve all areas of our business and reduce the non-physical waste has already proven fruitful.

We’ve chosen to work with a number of recognised Lean Manufacturing tools to achieve more streamlined and less wasteful operations, some of which we have implemented in their entirety, and some we have adapted to suit our business. In particular, 5S Methodology, Visual Factory, Gemba and KPIs are some of the key principles we’ve been working with, and the combination has delivered much more efficient processes and practices throughout the plant.

5S Methodology and Visual Factory

Adopting the 5S Methodology has given us a very clear direction to achieving workplace efficiency. The 5 S’ in question, Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise and Sustain. For us, this is about ensuring effective organisation in every working area of our business. A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Combining this approach to better organise the workspaces with the principle of a Visual Factory was undoubtedly the most appropriate way to ensure its effectiveness. Visibly marking out the spaces allocated to tools, equipment, jobs and even people has been a huge undertaking, ensuring practicality and safety at all times. From the erection of over 200 signs to aid awareness and visibility, to the installation of shadow boards in relevant areas to house the necessary tools, and the line mark-up of internal pedestrian walkways have all contributed to a cleaner and more structured working environment for all. Effective organisation has been very much accompanied by visual aids and clear communication.

The implementation of 5S Methodology has also allowed us to identify the gaps in our workplace organisation, and address these accordingly. With dozens of tool trollies in operation and no dedicated storage area, and forklift repairs taking place in various locations across the site, it was clear that dedicated work and storage areas were required. Parking bays have been allocated for the tool trollies, each clearly marked out and assigned to individual owners, and we’ve established a designated forklift repairs station, which is fenced off from other working spaces.

There is accountability in place, and regular inspections to ensure the steps we’ve implemented are adhered to and are working effectively.

Pictured: Example of 5 S Methodology and Visual Factory in practice at Quinn Packaging


Operational efficiency has been significantly improved with the introduction of additional KPIs which focus on maximising productivity and reducing down time. Process reliability has been introduced as a KPI across a number of our production departments, which takes a more holistic view of achieving greater efficiency in our operations.

The responsibility does not lie with any one individual team, but rather all teams involved are collectively responsible for ensuring outputs are maximised. So, production, planning and engineering teams must work effectively together to achieve their KPIs. Everyone has an influence, and must actively participate.

To incentivise this active participation, we’ve introduced performance related pay, with daily reporting and a very transparent and highly visible system to ensure awareness of performance at all times.

Beyond Gemba

In Lean Manufacturing, Gemba is a principal which encourages us to spend time in “the real place”. In this case, the factory floor, loading and delivery bays, warehouses and storage units are all in scope. The idea is to go to the areas where problems are visible, and the best improvement ideas can be generated. The Gemba Walk is an activity which takes management to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities to improve on a regular basis.

Introducing Gemba Walks for our management team was one thing, but we also wanted to ensure we gained actionable and tangible results from the exercise. And so we’ve taken the principal further by introducing Gemba Audits, or Leadership Audits, whereby Managers from one department will perform regular audits on other workplace areas. This means the learnings and observations from Gemba Walks are digitally recorded and produce tangible actions for improvement.

Our Managers have the opportunity to identify existing safety hazards, observe machinery and equipment conditions, ask about the practiced standards, gain knowledge about the work status and build relationships with employees in other departments.

It can be difficult to identify where changes can be made in our own environment, where we’re comfortable with the status quo, how things have always been done. So, we ensure no Manager audits their own department. They rotate to other areas of the business, so we have fresh eyes inspecting everything. They bring with them their own experiences and knowledge, and a new perspective.

For example, learnings and experience shared by our thermoforming department has resulted in the installation of an automated piping system to transfer granulated edge trimmings from the extrusion line to a granulation bag in the material handling hall, where it is re-introduced into the manufacturing process. Historically, the granulation bag was filled beside the extrusion line, and then transported by forklift. The new process is safer, cleaner and requires no forklift activity.

These regular Leadership Audits have delivered significant benefits beyond the tangible, practical improvements. We have been breaking down internal silos, opening channels of communication between departments, and developed a more connected and knowledgeable leadership team. They’re no longer focused solely on their own area of operations. The bigger picture has become much clearer for many of our Managers, and consideration of other departments and operational areas has become part of daily business.

I see healthy competition amongst our leadership team, manifesting in light hearted exchanges, with a determination to outperform each other evident. They’re keen to find opportunities for improvement in other areas of the business, and to add value. They’re also more inclined to cast a critical eye on their own work areas, anticipating what others might see and rectifying the issue before they get the chance. An advantageous by-product perhaps, but a significant benefit nonetheless.

We’ve made a great deal of progress in becoming a more lean facility, through the examples outlined, investment in software to streamline auditing and health and safety procedures, and a number of other advances. There’s no doubt the key to successful implementation of a Lean Manufacturing Programme relies on your entire workforce embracing the principles and committing to the efforts. Communication and collaboration from every area of the business has helped achieve this company wide buy-in, and I expect will help drive us further forward with our plans to continually improve our practices to become a leading Lean Manufacturer.