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Friday, September 10, 2010

"Lean technology" a Manufacturing Systems perspective

My colleagues and I are in the process of preparing an educational session that will be held at the ISPE annual event in November. So as usual I spend some time looking through my archives for relevant material that I already have – I call it 're-cycling' :-). This time I came across something that I never published or used and so I thought I would share it here. It is an attempt to explore the synergies of the Lean and Manufacturing Systems concepts. Read and tell me what you think…

Manufacturing Technology; A familiar phrase considered part of the everyday vocabulary. What about Lean Technology? Not a common phrase, but the idea of lean manufacturing supported through technology should be as much a part of the vocabulary as Manufacturing Technology. Lean thinking advocates simplification of manufacturing units so they can be more easily shifted to enable the flow of value. So in essence the “lean technology” concept supplements lean thinking by combining state-of-the-art manufacturing with advanced software systems in an integrated environment.

Using information systems in lean manufacturing is not a new concept, nor is it new to the lean movement. Many examples exist that prove that manufacturing (software) system can support a lean organization. Unfortunately most commonly information technology systems for manufacturing tend to become large monolithic systems of great complexity. They are designed to provide generic functionality to fit major industry verticals that can be configured specifically for each implementation. At the same time the uniqueness and the complexities of the specific manufacturing operations make the ability to only configure these solutions more a myth than reality. Most of the system vendors will of course argue against this - however the reality is that in order to meet the requirements of the manufacturing businesses they are forced to implement complex customizations. That is what I wrote on my post about Customize or Compromise.

Although lean thinking advocates the application of a set of specific common concepts, the actual implementation of these concepts in real life tends to be unique to each production line and plant. Information systems that are used to support these lean lines and plants have to be able to provide common functionality to support these concepts. Yet, they also have to be able to support the uniqueness of each implementation. Furthermore they need to be able to support the changes that are inherent in a lean system due to the continuous improvements as they are accomplished.

In summary here is my suggestion for the general functionality of a Manufacturing System that can support a Lean manufacturing environment. (BTW I know that these go against the grain by not using a problem-oriented approach – I will have to redefine this ASAP)

  • Value stream: We all know that value is identified by the specific needs of the customer hence the Manufacturing System should be usable and implementable to support only these specific processes that add value. In other words the system once implemented should not require or be constrained to use extra processes or involves extra steps if they are not directly part of the value flow.
  • Implement flow: The Manufacturing System should employ a value centric process model that is easily managed and accessible to all the relevant people. This will allow a transparent view of the value flow and thus allow engineers and operators to ensure production flow, be it a one-piece flow, supermarkets, or other relevant Lean solutions.
  • Execute Pull: This is kind of the obvious requirement that involves the enablement of pull execution and dispatching of WIP. This may include features and functionality to enable or enforce flow and managing kanbans, supermarkets, balancing, etc.
  • Enable Perfection: Enable perfection by providing the production and process visibility needed for the continuous improvement efforts. This is the part of the system that provides Intelligence (a topic that I have written a few relevant posts about). In addition the Manufacturing System should provide adequate configurability, extendibility and customizability that support continuous improvement.

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