Going large on lean

Posted on 1 Jun 2012 by The Manufacturer

Achieving integration of real world processes in manufacturing comapnies comes under scrutiny as Christine Hansen, manager, product marketing at Epicor Software responds to TM's April feature 'Lean goes large'.

Christine Hansen, Manager, Product Marketing, Epicor

I read with interest the Lean Goes Large article in the April issue of The Manufacturer which discussed how lean manufacturing can be used to benefit the wider supply chain in a collaborative way.  There were some great comments, tips and examples of good lean practice, but there was one thing that struck me as missing from the discussion – the challenge of making technology work effectively to deliver these goals.

It would be easy here to go on about our own solution, but my concern was really one of integration.

Whether you use one ERP system or eight individual products for different functions, without tight integration it is virtually impossible to achieve the goals of reducing waste and complexity within the supply chain, at least to the levels that could be within your grasp.  If a business is not adopting lean principles in all departments and has tightly integrated functions and information, is it realistic to try and push it upon the wider supply chain and expect good results?

Customer demand is driving production at an ever increasing pace with shortened lead times and lowered costs. To meet customer demands, manufacturers not only have to concentrate on taking out non-value added processes internally, they also need to ensure they know exactly what their customer wants and when they want it.  

To this end, manufacturers are widening the scope and focus of lean manufacturing to encompass all processes that contribute to the bottom line and this is why such tight integration is needed. Lean thinking is now increasingly being applied to all areas within the organisation – from sales and marketing to engineering and production through to finance and post-sale service.

 In practice, lean principles strive to identify the ‘value’ of processes and eliminate the ‘waste’ or processes without value that the customer would perceive as something they are not willing to pay for. There is no magic switch that companies flip when migrating to lean techniques. Rather, the process is one of continuous improvement, as each value stream is defined and reworked for optimum efficiency and performance.

But to reach this point of continuous improvement, systems have to provide feedback and analysis that accurately reflects what is happening in the real world.

Achieving this takes time but is a key foundation of effective modern manufacturing and the realisation of lean techniques.  Once your systems accurately reflect the real world, you can start to make informed decisions about efficiency and waste.

Once this point is reached it is possible to start taking advantage of all sorts of lean approaches on the production floor including Real-Time Purchase Kanbans, which directly inform the supplier via email that a blanket release is needed to replenish inventory; or Manufacturing Flow Kanbans which use pull signals on the manufacturing floor to queue production of product to meet demand. 

Automated replenishment of component and material inventory to specific bin locations can be queued automatically with Stock Replenishment Kanbans, ensuring the inventory is available, as it’s needed.

With the right technology these processes can happen in the blink of an eye bringing immediate efficiency, but the real benefit is the way you use the information collected in your virtual ‘real world’.  Interrogating the information in the system through business intelligence and KPI dashboards will help staff focus on the value-add decisions that really do reduce waste and efficiency in the supply chain.

Manufacturers that focus on their customers and business relationships to stay competitive will benefit from solutions that enable them to more easily deploy business information across an entire supply chain of partners.

This sharing of information electronically, and via many different device options, allows manufacturers to stay in synch with key relationships and share information for improved response to changing requirements and demands. This leads to more efficient operations and stronger business relationships with key customers.