Let”s come clean – lean manufacturing isn”t living up to everyone”s expectations. While some well-known companies such as Toyota have attributed success to their lean manufacturing approach, others are still struggling to realise the improvements they expected.
A survey from management consulting firm Bain & Company finds that just 19 per cent of companies that have tried lean manufacturing principles are happy with their results. So what is standing in the way of better returns?
The key concepts surrounding lean manufacturing were defined 40 years ago and today”s manufacturers inevitably face new trends and challenges. One new trend is mixed-mode manufacturing whereby elements of build-to-order, engineer-to-order, and assemble-to-order can be applied to support an ever-increasing product portfolio and fluctuating demand profile. This model is more complex than the simple make-to-replenish model, and Lean practitioners are struggling to adapt lean principles to it.
A second complicating factor is the extended enterprise or value chain, whereby value-added activities are extending beyond a company”s walls. In this case, material control techniques using the traditional manual or visual methods are no longer sufficient to synchronise material flow.
In today”s complex manufacturing environment, lean manufacturers need IT solutions that can: Handle hybrid make-to-order fulfilment models using a single technology framework; support additional material control techniques beyond traditional kanban control; use a single application platform capable of addressing lean requirements during design, operate, sustain and improve phases; standardise on a technology platform that can handle plant-to-plant variations; provide a closed-loop environment to drive structured kaizen improvements using real-time metrics; and maintain the same level of simplicity, user control and visibility for which lean is known, while making the enterprise rollout of a lean programme possible.
By using solutions that address these issues, it is possible for manufacturers to employ lean principles successfully, no matter how complex their business is.
Aamer Rehman is a vice president of manufacturing solutions and services at i2