Have you tried the SMED approach in your business?

SMED is a great way to build in flexibility and reduce lead times to your business processes. If you haven’t come across it before SMED stands for Single Minute Exchange of Dies. Fundamentally it is a quick changeover methodology. If you want a really vivid example of SMED in action, think of the difference between a Formula 1 pit stop compared to you when you get stuck on a dark rainy night when you have a puncture.

Ok, so there are a few things that are different in those situations, but the fundamental issue (changing a wheel fast) is obvious here.

Many times I will work with a team that will make comments about not being able to use specific Lean tools because of the way that their business works. SMED falls into this category, especially if the business in question is not a manufacturing business or doesn’t have tooling that needs to be changed.

In this article I intend to show you the generics of this Lean tool and challenge you to find a way to apply its principles to your business, whatever sector you are in!

lean manufacturing software

The generics of SMED

Let me start with a really quick overview of SMED; it has the following basic methodology:

  • Reallocate work content (tasks that are carried out during a changeover are moved to before or after the changeover itself, where possible).
  • Eliminate / minimise the need for adjustments.
  • Seek to reduce the overall effort required.

Let’s look behind this methodology and see what it is telling us:

  • We need the actual changeover from one task to another to have the least amount of work / effort / time.
  • If we can prepare in advance, do it.
  • If we can move tasks out until later (once the process is up and running) we should.
  • ‘Fiddling around’ and tweaking things needs to be taken out of the process.
  • Streamline, streamline, streamline!

So, whilst I accept that many businesses might be struggling to find a way to adopt SMED in their business (and I note that my methodology above is very abbreviated) there are few that cannot apply the five generic bullet points above.

Principle of preparation

What do you prepare in your business?

When I ask this question to my clients they sometimes have to think hard. It seems to have become quite common to turn up to meetings and ‘wing it’, or to start projects / production immediately because you’re short of time. You can tell the difference between the organisations that prepare and those that don’t. When preparation takes place overall effort reduces, deliveries are easier to achieve and problems down the line don’t appear as often.

I often joke with my clients when they tell me that they don’t have time to prepare as they often have time to do the work twice when it goes wrong because of something they have failed to prepare for in advance!

If you look around your business, I am sure that you will be able to find numerous activities that could be prepared more effectively than they are right now.

An example of transferring the generic idea

Let me give you a few quick examples to help you see how this generic idea can be transferred.

  1. A final painting process in a manufacturing business was often taking longer than expected. Upon reviewing the activity, it was clear that on a regular basis painting specifications had to be requested so that painting could commence. This normally caused a delay; however, the specifications could be requested at the start of the production cycle and not just before painting was about to commence! This small change eliminated the delay in the process.
  2. An end of project review activity for one client was taking up to six hours to complete. The projects being reviewed were often financially significant, but the method to uncover the lessons learned was both ineffective and inefficient. Taking the idea of preparation to heart, a simple web-based survey was created, the themes reviewed, an action plan created, and a short meeting held to agree the actions and provide feedback. This yielded a reduction from 60 labour hours down to around 3 hours in total.
  3. A team that complained about not having enough time to support their engineering teams because of all of the problems decided to study the root causes of their time poor existence. Most of the time it boiled down to having to re-work the information being supplied to their team. Simple answer – standardise the way that information came to their department and support the teams at the front, not the middle of their activities. This saved around 30% of their working week and they then slowly weaned the other teams off needing them altogether, saving another 10% of their time.
continuous improvement programme

Can you apply preparation more vigorously into your business?

The SMED methodology is great but, as I said at the start of this article, often limited to specific manufacturing tooling type problems.

Can you apply a more generic approach of re-sequencing work tasks and putting a greater focus on preparation to use this approach in your business?

I certainly hope so.

All the best,


Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who consults with businesses to improve their productivity and on time delivery performance. Giles is also the author of What Does Good Look Like? and the co-creator of the StreamLiner business improvement software program.