Lean manufacturing not only has a strong emphasis on waste management but also on the line of production, as one of its main objectives is ensuring both productivity and efficiency. Because of this emphasis, lean manufacturing often utilizes the term ‘flow’. ‘Flow’ refers to the movement of the product from start to completion. The Mercedes-Benz East London plant utilizes 530 robots in order to produce 540-560 cars a day. This large manufacturing feat would not be possible without an immaculate production line. In order to carry this off, the plant makes use of a well-organized line of production where each manufacturing step leads to the next. This is underpinned by the plant’s key culture which is “moving forward”. This key culture is also underpinned by the plant’s excellent employee attendance which allows the plant to carry out a nightshift which further improves productivity.
“Every time your business stops running, you are losing money” – Anita Stanbury on @MBInspire_SA field trip. #ThreadsBySB
“Every time your business stops running, you are losing money.” Explains Stanbury. Mercedes-Benz’s well-organized production line taught the entrepreneurs a lesson on ensuring a methodical line of production which leads to better time management.
Even with one of the most efficient production lines in the world, Mercedes-Benz’s huge manufacturing endeavour would not be possible without the numerous motivated and reliable employees who work there. Mercedes-Benz understands the current employment crisis taking place in South Africa and in reaction to this, they have implemented a third shift which has led to the employment of an extra seven hundred people living in the East London area.
“You not only have to keep your customers happy, but also your people employed.” Said Du Plessis. Mercedes-Benz implements many employee incentives to keep up workers’ morale. Each workshop area has a ‘green room’, a safe area where work groups can meet to relax as well as discuss team goals. “Like a rugby team, they all push together.” Explains Du Plessis. This motivation stems from the creative ways in which Mercedes-Benz incites productivity in their workers, such as offering five weeks of pay for four weeks of work in order to reward high quality and productive work. The visit to Mercedes-Benz plant taught the entrepreneurs a valuable lesson in improving their productivity through improving their relationship with their workers. It was difficult not to feel the impact of the lively work atmosphere as workers listened to music as they worked as well as shook hands with their superiors. “Your business isn’t a business without people.” Explains Stanbury as she explained the importance of maintaining good relationships in relation to Lean manufacturing.
Lean manufacturing’s emphasis on waste management, a methodical and effective line of production and good employee relations would all mean nothing if it did not result in quality. The brand Mercedes-Benz is synonymous with not only luxury but also quality, which is highlighted in their slogan ‘the best or nothing.’ “Mercedes-Benz is known for two things: safety and quality. There is no first, they are equally as important.” Explained Du Plessis. Mercedes-Benz East London conducted a corrosion test on their materials whereby they left their high tensile steel, used to protect passengers in the event of rolling, in the harbour for two years. After the two years, the steel was brought up and not an inch of corrosion was detected. Anita Stanbury encouraged the entrepreneurs to implement similar tests on their materials, particularly their fabrics, in order to ensure no shrinkage or discoloration occurs.
The entrepreneurs learnt many insightful lessons that can be applied to their own businesses at the Mercedes-Benz plant in East London, but the lesson of quality in relation to Lean manufacturing was the most impactful lesson discussed and witnessed there. This is because it taught the entrepreneurs that it is not about how much money you make or how quickly you make it, but rather that you produce something you can be proud of. This lesson reaches far beyond the automotive and fashion industry as all local businesses can learn and thrive from it.
Thank you to Mercedes-Benz for opening their doors to the Threads entrepreneurs and allowing them to have an exclusive inside look at the manufacturing magic that takes place inside there.
Photography : Dylan Gouws