Lean thinking at its best, A Good Example


When you create value in the early stage of a product life cycle, the end product will show higher value than doing it later in the product’s life cycle. For an example if we “design” something lean, it will need less resource to produce, less need for marketing and so on. But in contrast if we try making the product “manufacturing” lean for a non-lean design, still it will give you some results, but it will not be as good as in the first case. Today, I am not going in to the lean design concept. If you want to learn more you may refer old articles on this site. Today, I am going to show you an example of how lean thinking can generate unthinkable results.

If your vehicle does 300miles per gallon of gasoline will you be happy? Of course you will. But it is impossible right? Yes, with traditional wisdom. But one car (or in this case a machine which takes people from one place to another) says they do that. This car manufacturer is “Aptera”. It is not this massive mileage forced me to write this article, but the thinking behind it.

On a video on YouTube, the founder talks about why vehicles do not do well on fuel. A typical car would go about 30 miles per gallon. But where the energy goes? Is it on the primary goal of taking you from point A to Point B, with all the comfort you need? No, according Aptera. Energy is wasted (Waste is the keyword) fighting wind resistance. Your wipers, your side mirrors and the grill and virtually everything fight with the wind to take you forward. In the process you lose much of the energy. In addition, you waste energy in breaking and in deceleration especially in city limits. So instead of using energy in our primary goal in an effective manner, you fight with other problems and get nowhere with the primary objective. But when you define your goal correct and identify the current problems, the picture changes. Seemingly unthinkable looks extremely possible. Isn’t this familiar? Isn’t this where most of the organizations struggle with? And isn’t this the problem lean try to address?

Lean suggests you analyze, categorize your activity from the eye of your customer. And lean suggests you get away from the wastes and continuously improve on productive activities. This is exactly what this new auto manufacturer has done. They have applied this thinking so early in their product life cycle, so they get huge leverage. They have eliminated the problem of wind resistance with a space age design. They reuse energy when lost in breaking. They get support from wind instead of fighting it. It shows on the results they get. They get almost 10 time fuel efficiency. And their design is revolutionary in looks. But it has a great cabin space and a boot of the size of a Honda Accord. And the end product is much lighter and super strong. All these results once thought be not possible became possible at once.

So what is the moral of the story?

Think lean, think early, you will achieve great heights.

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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.

Lean design

In the discussion about lean manufacturing, most of us have forgotten the processes happening prior to manufacturing. Identifying and analyzing customer requirement, identifying the marketing opportunities, conceptualizing and designing are some of the key things happening before manufacturing. Decisions made in these stages directly influence the value of the product, amount of waste it generates in manufacturing and even how it will perform in the market. Manufacturing process certainly adds value to the product so it is very important to be lean in manufacturing. But have you ever thought about lean designs and the value it can bring to your system.

Value addition to the product starts way before it reaches manufacturing. One of the most important phases in pre production value additions is the design phase. Design is undoubtedly controls most of the processes happening after. So needless to say that a good design can add huge amount of value to the product. It is important not only to make the designing process lean, it is also important to make the designs lean.

Designing process can take lots of time and effort and costs. This is one of the largest contributors to the concept to market time. Using concepts of lean like Just In Time, Mistake Proofing and Standardizing can help reduce the time and effort taken to develop a design.

When developing a product as a lean designer, the designer must make sure the product is not only fulfilling the customer and design aspects, but also it needs to be compatible with the lean processes. In design manufacturing constrains like equipment, processes and required skills must be considered. In simple terms a brilliant design will not work unless it can be manufactured with a reasonable cost and quality.

Some simple techniques might help designing products in a true lean way. Designing the full product as a set of standard components is one of key concepts. Although the vehicle’s outer design can be drastically different and innovative engines and gear boxes of an automobile will remain the same. So for the manufacturer there is no need to setup, test assemblies for these components separately. This approach to manufacturing will reduce the time required for manufacturing and related costs.

Ease of maintenance and ease of day to day use are very important aspects that need to be considered in designing a product. As much as users like the innovative new features and novelty, people like ease of handling and ease of maintenance. A product designed in a lean way will be very easy to use and also will be very easy to maintain.

Designing is a creative process. By mixing creative design capabilities with lean techniques and concepts can add greater value in the bigger picture. Ease of manufacturing, ease of use, ease of maintenance are among the direct benefits of lean designing apart from its obvious benefits like costs savings, lead time reduction and high quality of the end products.