Lean has a profound, positive effect on manufacturing

Posted on 8 Oct 2009 by The Manufacturer

Lean, and more collaborative product development and data management will provide the biggest benefits to manufacturers in the next five years, say directors at software company Gartner. Marc Halpern, research director and Dan Miklovic, research vice president set out their interpretation of lean and why it is so important.

Gartner has identified that lean, Six Sigma manufacturing, design data management, product content management, product requirements management, product portfolio and programme management, and collaborative product development should be manufacturers’ top priorities over the next five years. These will have the greatest positive impact on the business performance of manufacturers through 2014.

Lean is the most fundamental and has the broadest impact. It establishes a value basis for all decisions and activities within a manufacturing company. It goes beyond the vaunted reductions in cost and inventory commonly associated with lean. It fundamentally impacts the basis for all decision making, from defining products to be developed, through design, production, service, sales and more. It is the most of these areas to execute, because it requires cultural change at every organisational level, from senior executives to the maintenance staff.

Manufacturers that have adopted lean correctly are achieving major business performance improvements.

Lean manufacturing seeks to achieve a value-based, problem-solving approach for every activity in the manufacturing value chain. Lean is a manufacturing management and production control system for eliminating waste, but not by arbitrarily cutting costs.

Lean is about developing critical production linkages with customer or market demands for value, and continually redefining processes that best serve that demand for value with a minimum of wasted steps — building of inventory is foremost among the sources of waste. Lean assumes change is constant and necessary for improvement; therefore, it posits a system of decentralised problem resolution, team-based decision making, and interdependent, coordinated and transparent asset use that fosters great agility.

Manage data, support lean
Given these goals, lean manufacturing systems consist of a set of tools, including value stream mapping, root cause problem resolution and line balancing for “onepiece flow”; kanban-based material “pull” systems based on just-in-time (JIT) production concepts; visual manufacturing tools such as andon boards for problem flagging and resolution, as well as heijunka boards for production team monitoring of yield versus task time; error-proofing assembly techniques; and work instructions. Also, lean is a continuous process Lean has a profound, positive effect on manufacturing IT in improvement technique so that IT supports kaizen definitions and processes. The ongoing change among decentralised work teams is also relevant. Design data management, product content management, product requirements management, product portfolio and programme management, and collaborative product development are a few of the applications that can support lean in multiple product lifecycle activities.

However, lean manufacturing systems lag in the manufacturing system marketplace, which is dominated by “batch and queue”-style operations supported primarily by manufacturing resource planning (MRP) solutions and their predominant production control and management techniques. Many companies: 1) have not adopted lean principles and their corresponding systems; or 2) have deployed a lean system component, JIT, without the complete vision, change programme and management controls and then abandoned their lean initiatives after encountering cultural resistance and technical problems. Speed of adoption varies by industry, with the automotive and electronics industries being far more advanced (two years to mainstream adoption) and process industries just beginning to adopt lean (in reality five to ten years from mainstream adoption).

While many point solutions may exist for lean operations, manufacturers need to deploy technology according to a broader lean transformation strategy, as well as business and technology plans. Isolated applications will not return adequate benefits. IT may be deployed in incremental or staged implementations as long as the right process and system interfaces are identified and achieved along the road map, and the higher-order principles of lean manufacturing are not violated. A holistic lean manufacturing operations suite, representing all the IT ramifications of lean, does not exist today. Users must look at technologies, software providers and home grown solutions that offer the best path to integration. Because lean is a continuous improvement methodology grounded in identifying root causes for waste and ongoing elimination of non-value adding activities, users must consider their abilities to rapidly deploy and revise applications according to the hands-on needs of operators in the process as a key to success.

Still in adolescence, lean manufacturing currently has a market penetration of between five and 20% in the UK. Ultimately, although it remains up to five years away, its impact will be transformational.