Embracing lean production to better serve vulnerable populations

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Since our inception 40 years ago, NRS Relief, its parent company NRS International and its manufacturing arm, Haji Sheikh Noor-ud-Din & Sons (HSNDS), have been consistent advocates and practitioners of responsible production. We strive for environmental, social and financial sustainability through the rigorous control of product development processes and supply chains, from manufacturing to delivery. Robust quality assurance ensures compliance with environmental and social accountability certifications, such as ISO 14000, ISO 9001 and SA 8000.

Our sustainability culture ensures that we always look for ways to improve production standards. The decision of senior management in 2016 to implement a comprehensive lean production regime marks our latest step in this journey.

Battling the 3Ms with the 5S

Drawn from Japanese production methods pioneered by Toyota, lean production maximises consumer value while minimising waste in all forms. Collectively, these forms are known as the 3Ms:

  • Muda: any activity/process that does not add value e.g. defects and overproduction
  • Mura: unevenness, e.g. a stop-start workflow caused by a lack of harmony
  • Muri: overburden on employees and processes caused by e.g. lack of training

We seek to eliminate the 3Ms through kaizen – an ethos of continuous improvement – and five systematic steps known as 5S:

  • Sort (Seiri): identifying waste, including the red tag activity
  • Set-in-order (Seiton): tidying, throwing waste, redesigning processes
  • Shine (Seiso): daily cleaning, optimisation of set-in-order changes
  • Standardize (Seiketsu): creating standards for all processes, maintain order.
  • Sustain (Shitsuke): sustaining all of the above.

Training and restructuring for success

To implement this agenda, a week of training was conducted in September 2016 in consultation with Spring Vision Group. Broken into thematic modules, this programme introduced senior management across all production units to lean management concepts and techniques.

Before the training, a lean policy was adopted by NRS/HSNDS directors and diffused throughout all subsidiaries. To aid the application of 5S principles, NRS International’s structure has been reimagined along lean lines, including:

  • The appointment of a Lean Coordinator
  • The formation of a Steering, Audit and Advisory Committees
  • The division of production facilities into distinct zones
  • The assignment of lean team leaders, facilitators and trainers to all zones

As of January 2017, all zones have started implementation of lean 5S, beginning with sorting activities. To this end, a ‘red tag ceremony’ was held in December 2016, whereby waste in all forms was clearly demarcated with a label bearing a deadline for elimination.

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Implementing and monitoring across the business

Moving forward, we aim to move through 5S systematically over the coming months, beginning with a progression to set-in-order across departments. However, because our subsidiaries face different operational environments and challenges, production facilities and zones will not move at a uniform pace. Rather, they will be allowed the space to move at their own speed to ensure the most sustainable outcomes.  Progress will be tracked using Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) metrics and incorporated into a sustainability report.

Never content to stand still, we continue to fine-tune production methods in order to better respond to the needs of vulnerable populations across the world. Lean production marks a crucial step in this journey.

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