A focus on development

Posted on 7 May 2008 by The Manufacturer

Although lean manufacturing has become universal, few companies recognise that it also applies to the very front end of the process. Steve Boam looks at how to apply lean to new product development

The Toyota Production System (TPS), which began it all, actually started as a planning process and a method of introducing stability.
It was from here that SMED (single minute exchange of die) and other lean tools were developed to reduce time and develop a far quicker and more responsive method to produce. TPS is a developed methodology that addresses all processes from customer feedback through sales and marketing to design and production. Toyota’s relentless drive to remove waste is unrivalled and has led them to address their new product introduction (NPI) and design for manufacture and assembly (DFMA) processes several years ago.
Research suggests that 85 per cent of effort should be spent on product design and proving out design, processes and build methods (parts, tooling and equipment) and 15 per cent should be spent on good production methodology or systems. This fits well with Toyota’s methodology of PDCA (plan, do, check, act) taken from Deming, and the proven suggestion that spending a similar percentage of time planning will greatly reduce time taken on implementation. This in turn allows a smoother change or introduction, eliminates last minute panic and fire-fighting, and ultimately reduces additional time and cost post launch.
In the western world we grow heroes and heroines who spend little time planning and most of their time task managing and putting out the fires that should never have started in the first place.
Applying lean in terms of the NPI process, setting out a clearly defined process with gateways, clear responsibilities and a robust review method with clear cut off and decision points is a good start. Including value added steps to simulate as much as possible pre-launch is critical.
Developing a process to maximise time spent at prototype and simulation can reduce cost and time significantly. Introducing new concepts such as digital or virtual assembly and rapid prototyping can significantly reduce time, effort, rework and cost also.
DFMA is linked closely with value engineering/ value-added and takes the NPI front end of the process to even greater levels in terms of cost avoidance and a right first time approach.
Reviewing all major parts for simpler ways to manufacture and assemble is a big step, with huge rewards and savings when developed correctly. Developing standards for fit methods, ergonomics, quality and of course trying whenever possible to error proof (or poke yoke) to reduce defects is all part of creating a well-designed part or product.
Of course this makes sense – it’s simple; the difficulty is in recommending to senior management that you want to increase resource, support and involvement, and add short-term increased costs. This is often difficult to justify when the payback may not be quantifiable or measurable depending on accounting or costing of previous attempts and certainly not deliverable until post launch. This is a tall business case especially as in some industries this may be three to 10 years in advance of any return.
This then is possibly the reason that lean sits firmly in the direct areas in most businesses and is only slowly moving upstream to ensure we lean our product development process also. I can vouch for the fact that, done correctly, this small investment is worth its weight in long-term stability and reduced costs.