Lean – A Philosophy that Changed the Business World – Part 3
As these words are written, Toyota, the leading lean exemplar in the world, stands poised to become the largest automaker in the world in terms of overall sales. Its dominant success in everything from rising sales and market shares in every global market, not to mention a clear lead in hybrid technology, stands as the strongest proof of the power of lean enterprise.
This continued success has over the past two decades created an enormous demand for greater knowledge about lean thinking. There are literally hundreds of books and papers, not to mention thousands of media articles exploring the subject, and numerous other resources available to this growing audience.
As lean thinking continues to spread to every country in the world, leaders are also adapting the tools and principles beyond manufacturing, to finance, logistics & distribution, services, retail, healthcare, construction, maintenance, and even government. Indeed, lean consciousness and methods are only beginning to take root among senior managers and leaders in all sectors today.
Today, lean processes are still at the heart of most manufacturing operations worldwide and are becoming increasingly important in other industry sectors too. As the manufacturing industry is moving into advance stage, analysts are also trying to maintain pace-to-pace with continuous improvement in processes and methodologies. In response, managers are starting to review their original lean strategies in light of today’s changing market demands. Some are asking, ‘Is lean still relevant?’ Others wonder, ‘How does a lean enterprise also embrace investment in new technologies like 3D printing, Advance Robotics, Virtual Reality, Virtual Augmentation, Mobile Technology and Internet of Things? ‘
The industry has changed dramatically since lean principles were first adopted, especially in the areas of manufacturing technology and information management. When many companies first rolled out their lean initiatives, the Internet was in its infancy and few could imagine a workplace that included use of mobile devices, online portals for customers and suppliers, and real time collaboration with suppliers in other continents. It’s a quickly evolving global market place today with highly demanding customers. How do lean principles hold up to this new paradigm?
To remain relevant, a business philosophy cannot operate in a vacuum. Manufacturers, technology, and the manufacturing workforce have all evolved. It seems logical that lean principles, too, must evolve.
Data management is one of the key aspects that require a fresh perspective. Since many of the early books and how-to guides on lean concepts were written, Big Data technology has dramatically transformed reporting and analytics. Now, data can be used to predict market demands, rather than just report on historical transaction trends. Reporting tools are also easier to use, bringing KPI tracking to users throughout the organization. Users no longer need the help of the IT team to simply obtain a performance report. This ease of use brings a new challenge, though: Over reporting and data deluge. Here is where the lean guidelines for ‘keeping processes simple’ can help managers control the temptation to over-analyze.
Just-in-time inventory concepts, part of the lean philosophy, also need a refresher. Expectations over delivery dates have escalated greatly. In 1990, a six-month delivery wait may have been tolerated; today, in some industries, six days or six hours may be too slow. Just as expectations have drastically changed, capabilities and best practices have kept pace. Raw materials can be shipped faster, received sooner, and put into the production value chain with remarkable speed, reducing even further the need to inventory raw materials. Even an extended, global supply chain can respond with great agility. This doesn’t mean lean principles can be ignored by warehouse managers. On the contrary, it is more important than ever to manage the complexity, minimize steps, and optimize resources.
Shop floor scheduling is the next area that requires a new chapter in the lean manual. Early lean consultants didn’t address technologies, such as 3D printing, smart sensors, advance robots, mobile technology and Internet of Things (IOT), for one important reason: These concepts were little more than visions and prototypes, when the Toyota Production System drifted to Western shores. Can manufacturers reconcile disruptive innovations and lean efficiency? How can a manufacturer balance innovation, which brings some natural waste as ideas are tried and discarded, with the lean mandate to minimize waste? On the surface, the two precepts seem incompatible.
Times have changed. And, in order to remain an agile manufacturer, lean methodologies must adapt and change too, means the Manufacturing Transformation should continue during regular interval of time. Otherwise, organizations will remain stuck in the 1950s while the competition soars into 21st century manufacturing.
Manufacturers must strive to overcome this fallacy that branching into uncharted territories to develop new products is wasteful, and against lean philosophies. Innovation cannot be curtailed, as it brings the next generation breakthroughs that will continue to inspire growth and investment. Disruptive technology brings some degree of ‘waste’ as new systems and workflows continue to be refined, until best practices are reached. Manufacturers are still on the upward slope of the learning curve, as they work to establish new best practices for on demand scheduling and ‘printing’ needed components, rather than manufacturing them. Lean concepts can be used to guide the workflows and keep waste in check, without totally restricting some tolerance for the trial and error and experimentation that come with any new approach.
A look back at lean’s history and lean’s future comes at an opportune time, as many of the early adopters and baby boomers of lean transformation projects are reaching retirement age and several are retiring every day, leaving gaps in the workforce that are hard to fill. These retirees likely include the managers and their production crews, who sat through the eye-opening training sessions in the 1980s as words like kaizen and kanban still sounded so strange.
Now, a new generation of manufacturing personnel is being introduced to the lean vocabulary and striving to put the lean concepts in context for their jobs, their roles, and their priorities. This isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly necessary.
- ‘The Machine That Changed the World’, 1990, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones.
- ‘Lean Thinking’, 1996, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones.
- ‘Triumph of the lean production system’. 1988, Krafcik, John F., Sloan Management Review.
- ‘Toyota Production System’, 1988, Ohno, Taiichi, Productivity Press.
- ‘Automotive News calls Toyota world No 1 car maker’, 2008, Bailey, David.
About Guest Author:
Dr. Subhash Dev Hiwase, Ph.D. (Mechanical Engineering), IIT Kharagpur, India
Dr. Subhash Dev Hiwase, is a Global Professional Leader, doctorate from IIT Kharagpur, India, in Mechanical Engineering, and having 25 years of Extensive Experience on Global Product Development, Strategy & Operations – broadly in the area of New Product Development, Continuous Product Improvement, Technology Innovation, Lean Transformation & Performance Optimization.
He enjoys Designing, Developing & Introducing New Products in the Market, which are having very High Customer Values and has a successful record of creating large/small Product Development Programs, Developing Strategies, Cultivating High Performance Teams and Fortune 500 Client Relationships. Additionally, Subhash has an extensive Financial background and significant International Business Experience.
If any organization/individual is willing to design & develop New Product, which should be Cost Effective, High Quality & within Specific Timeline in India or Abroad, please feel free to reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He has got very strong product design & development credentials and has already developed/worked-on several New Product Development for Automotive, Aerospace, Industrial Product, Heavy Engineering, Consumer Goods, Medical Product, Energy & Power, Oil & Gas, Special & General Purpose Machines Industries for Indian & International OEM’s, such as, In Automotive: He has designed & developed Car, SUV, Bus, Truck, Tractor, 2,3-Wheeler, engines, power transmission, Steering, Clutch, Brakes, Suspensions, Chassis, etc; In Aerospace: He has designed & developed Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Structure, Critical Load-Bearing Structures, Wing Spar, Fuselage Keel Beam, Empennage, Control surfaces, Crew & Passenger Seats, Pressurized Cabin Doors, Fairings, Cowlings, Baffles, Non-Load-Bearing Structures, Un-pressurized Cabin Doors, Access Panels, Armrests, Instrument Panels, Pneumatic-Hydraulic-Electrical Lines, Brackets, Clips, Hooks, etc; In Heavy Engineering: He has designed & developed Cranes, Track Type Tractor, Wheel Loaders, Excavators, Compactors, Motor Graders, Mining & Off-road Heavy Machines, etc; In Industrial Product: He has designed & developed pumps, compressors, fans, blowers, engines, power transmission, gear drives, bearings, couplings, industrial chain, torque limiters, clutches, locking & clamping devices, brakes, backstops, freewheels, and solid-state motor switches, switch-gears, conveyor components, etc; In Consumer Goods – He has designed & developed Mixer, Grinder, Washing machine, Vacuum cleaner, Electronic Toothbrush, Epilator, Trimmer, Massager, Refrigerator, Suitcase, Television, Table Fans, Table Phones, etc. In Medical Product – He has designed & developed X-ray system, Leproscopic surgery products in plastics, Surgical Imaging, Surgical Equipment, Angiography Equipment, Electrocardiogram, etc; In Energy & Power – He has designed & developed ESP, Design Safety, Na Combustion, Cement & Minerals, Building Material, Filter Bags, Reverse Bag Filter, Boilers, etc; In Oil & Gas – He has designed & developed oil rig design, development & quality inspections, etc; In Special & General Purpose Machines – He has designed & developed special purpose, general purpose, lathe machines, and several other machines widely used in the industries etc.