Role of IT in lean

In this blog I have discussed about the relationships between lean manufacturing and information technology. Software industry and IT can get great lessons from lean. On the other hand lean manufacturers can use IT to help their efforts in the journey. 

First of all it is important to understand that software alone will not make you lean or even efficient. In most of the cases IT plays an important support role. Good processes can be made more effective and efficient with software and application of IT not the other way around. 

It is important to know where IT can help you in your lean efforts. Some examples are given below. 

  • Information Technology can be used in communicating data fast and accurately. Sharing the same piece of truth is very important to run a lean system effectively.
  • Collection and processing of data is another very important area where IT can help the lean manufacturer. Collecting data and analysis will help you in better decision making.
  • Some of the work can be automated using the IT technology. For an example rather than creating a purchase order every time, the system can be configured in such a way that it can pass the requirement to the suppliers in a predefined interval based on the TAKT time. 

When implementing complicated IT systems it is important to make sure the systems also are following the concepts of lean. For an example; 

  • Collecting and accumulating data which are not used for decision making will increase the workload for people and machinery and also will serve no purpose; hence it creates the wastes of over processing and inventory.
  • Systems must be made to update just in time and possibilities of erroneous data into the systems must be eliminated making the system error proofed. 

In simple terms implementing an IT system will not solve your problem or will not make you a lean manufacturer. You have to put the processes in place first to be facilitated by IT in true lean manner. Like in lean manufacturing, it is important to apply the concepts of lean in designing the suitable IT systems for you. Good IT systems and good lean processes will make you a better lean manufacturer.

Lean manufacturing and consistency – Heijunka

Consistency is a key work in lean manufacturing. Consistency in effort, consistency in innovation and improvement and consistency in vision throughout the organization is the key to successful lean implementation. Consistency in manufacturing is also known as “heijunka” in lean context.

In very simple terms this is about leveling the activities to manage the processes easily with little variation. Higher variation in product volumes and mix creates peaks and valleys in the process. Handling peaks requires additional resources while idling is a direct result of valleys.

Peaks needs additional resources like human, machine and time. This puts extra stress on machinery, people and systems. On the other hand when the volumes are low the resources would be idling. This obviously is a loss to the organization. In lean it is very important to measure the effects on the total organization. There is no point in rushing to finish an order which will reach the customer in two weeks time.

The backbone of lean is JIT (Just In Time) technique. In simple JIT is about fulfilling the customer demand in correct quantities, when they want it. Although the pull system is a main concept of lean, it should be optimized in the bigger picture to obtain the best output. This is why the concept of heijunka is very important in lean.

Lean manufacturing and lean supply chain

Lean manufacturing is a very popular concept. But words like lean enterprise and lean supply chain are capturing the industry by storm. What is the reason for this shift from manufacturing focus to a wider focus? 

As a lean manufacturer you are good as the weakest of your suppliers in becoming truly lean. For an example if you have hundred items going in assembling one finished product, you are only good as the weakest supplier who is not supplying you on time as per the required quality standards. Most of the wastes are generated in the interfaces between supplier to manufacturer and manufacturer to the customer and so on. 

Suppliers, manufacturers and customers and even other influential bodies like government agencies are links of a single supply chain. The total strength of the chain will be as good as its weakest links strength. Best performance can be achieved only if we optimize the strength of this chain. 

While it is important to understand the ideal lean supply chain scenario and the advantages it can bring, it may be impossible to make all the suppliers and customers and others involved in the process lean over night. So do not fall in to the trap of waiting till all the others become lean to start your lean journey. You should not plan the ideal JIT system based on assumption. The system must be optimized to get the best outcome from the lean implementation with the resources available. Unless you start using lean to its fullest effect, trying to convincing your suppliers and customers to follow lean will off tack your efforts. Once your system is matured, you can extend your lean efforts through the supply chain. 

Continuous change is a basic lean concept. A lean supply chain can be achieved with small, step by step approach over a period of time. Simply although it is very important to extend your lean efforts throughout the supply chain, it is a step by step process which starts from you with lean manufacturing.