Lean, Technology and Systems

I came across the quote below recently. I thought this is very true for an organization tying to implement lean manufacturing. Bill Gates Said “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency.  The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency”

 As we have already discussed in this blog, technology can be used to help your lean efforts. When it comes to technology lean always believes that only the tested and effective technology must be used. But the part that technology plays will vary according to the systems you have in place. If you have an operational model which is not structured, technology will not be able to help you in getting it sorted, in fact sometimes it will make life even difficult for you. On the other hand if the operational model is stable and organized, technology will make it much more effective and efficient.

 If someone to know this it with his experience that will be Bill Gates without any doubt. Buying IT solutions and expensive machinery to automate will not help if you do not have the correct systems in place.  If you feed your systems with Junk it will give you Junk as output. On the other hand even if you feed the best input to your system, if the system is not proper it will still throw you junk as the output. 

The lean machine

Lean manufacturing has a definite set of inputs and it is intended to give certain set of outputs. It consumes energy in various forms and requires maintenance in operation. It requires setup and time to time health checks. Objective of lean is to generate the desired output by optimizing the resources used. Sounds like a machine. In fact it is. It is a very productive machine.

Lean systems can be modeled as machines. This will give us clarity in thought process and will make it easy to understand systems. A lean system gets inputs in the form of raw materials, electricity, human resource and management. It creates the products or the services by utilizing them. The system is aligned so that it can give output of one piece using one piece of RM as the input. In other word there is no requirement to enter inputs in bulk to get the output. And this large machine is consisting of number of interdependent small machines.

The lean machine is intelligent enough to understand the variations occurring in it. And it will correct those variations by itself. If it can not do the correction by itself, it will stop and will get the third party involvement in correcting. It will not pass the defective parts forward. So this machine is fool proofed.

This machine works with simple logic. When there is a requirement it will pull the raw materials or the semi finished goods from the early process and will process them. There will be minimum amount of products inside the machine at any given time making the WIP very low.

Continuous monitoring and upgrades are required to make sure this machine works correct. Improvements and fine tuning will make the machine more and more effective. People are the gears and electronics and the computer chips of this machine. If they do not work correct, the machine will fail. So it is very important to keep people motivated. Training and educating people is also very important.

Lean machine needs energy. This needs to be provided by top management. Part of the energy is generated within the system itself with the effects of synergy. Starting the machine requires lots of energy. But once started it can run with very little of it.

Lean is an effective, efficient and very simple machine. Creating and operating this will take time and effort. But once done it will add great value to the organization.

Is Toyota really following the lean manufacturing as we understand it?

I got an interesting news item delivered to my inbox on lean manufacturing recently. There were some interesting insights to Toyota and its philosophy and its operations. Among them there was some information which surprised me.

In this article it said “During full-production periods, when the plant is running 24-7, employees work incredible amounts of overtime — and during slow times, they all know they will still get their paychecks” I am very happy the way Toyota treats its employees and specially the security they have when it comes to their jobs. But I am little surprised to see the variation in production. This article sounds like Toyota is going through very high level of variations. But in the lean concept level production or Heijunka is a key initiative. So this makes me as a reader to think and question the way Toyota actually operate.

On the other hand it was very interesting to note the comment on employee activities in slow times. In this article it says “Hoseus said during slow times, all employees work on becoming more efficient, brainstorming ways to out-do their competition (they’ll bring in competitors cars and tear them apart, looking for ways to improve their own vehicles), and all become actively involved in seeking ways to save the company money

Kaizen is a corner stone of lean. So finding ways and means of improvement is very important. But I am little surprised to see Toyota bringing competitors cars in and study them to learn from them. Learning new ways and doing things is fine. But I am not sure whether Toyotas competition will enjoy this.

But on the other hand I am very interested in the way Toyota works with community to find the most important resource for any lean manufacturer, the human resource. And the skills they are looking for are very interesting. “Finding employees who fit into Toyota’s mindset has been a problem, Hoseus said, and its nonprofit organization was developed to overcome those problems by working with the community and educators to train people to be the kind of employees Toyota wants: flexible people with a teamwork attitude and problem-solving skills

I am a firm believer of lean manufacturing. Toyota may be the pioneers of lean, but lean concepts are the driving force behind it. When it comes to lean manufacturing Toyota can be considered as a very important and experienced lean implementation. In other words it is very important to differentiate lean manufacturing with Toyota production system (TPS). TPS is the way lean is practiced in Toyota. It satisfies the requirements of Toyota not your organizations needs. So it is important to take lessons from pioneers like Toyota but also you need to remember lean is not 100% equal to TPS.

You can read this article by clicking here:

Lean design

We have discussed about the value of being lean in design. Being lean in the design stage can add far more value than it can add in the manufacturing stage of the product or a service. Good design must satisfy all the requirements of the consumer as well as the requirements of manufacturing and distribution. In other words a lean design should eliminate the manufacturing and operational wastes.
I found an interesting water filter design. It has two outlets one supplying hot water and the other supplying cold water. This might be a good manufacturing design as opposed to the models where they have three outlets with one for normal water since this will reduce somewhat of manufacturing costs. But how will it do in day to day operation.

Most of the people mix hot and cold water both to get the correct temperature they want. So they use energy in heating up water and also they use energy in cooling water and they mix both and waste energy by doing so. In long run this means higher electricity bills and importantly a contribution to the global energy crisis.

Some of the wastes are inbuilt to the process. In designing a process and in selecting machinery we need to be careful. We must evaluate the operational costs with each option we have. It might be costly to buy two small batch processing machines when compared to larger volume machine but in operation it will give greater flexibility and shorter lead-times and hence the competitive advantage for an example.

With the example today we have to keep in mind designs (let it be a product or a process) can influence overall productivity of the operation. Being lean in your design will add greater value than it can add in the manufacturing stages.