Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Myth of Lean Manufacturing

NOTE: I wrote this for the Nov 13, 2013 IMTS Insider

The Myth of Lean Manufacturing
By: Dave Edstrom

For the vast majority of manufacturers who say they are doing “lean”, or lean manufacturing, it is an absolute myth. They are either kidding themselves or are clueless on what lean manufacturing actually means. Let’s take a look at why the title of this IMTS Insider story is absolutely true.

When I speak to audiences on MTConnect, I like to ask a number of questions. I do this to learn more about the audience, as well as to engage the participants to think about their own plants or shops. Where there might be multiple choices, I need to properly define exactly the definition of the words I am using before I ask an audience question.

An example of this is shop floor monitoring. What I explain is that shop floor monitoring is not someone walking around with a clipboard, writing down the status of the stack lights and then returning to his desk to put that information into a spreadsheet and finally email it to management.

Shop floor monitoring is the ability to know exactly what is happening on your shop floor, anytime, anyplace and on any device. If you cannot pickup your smart phone and immediately see what is happening that femtosecond on your plant floor, then you are not monitoring your shop.

One of the audience participation questions that I ask is, “raise your left hand if you are doing lean manufacturing.” Invariably, 70 to 80 percent of the hands go up. The next question I ask is “put your left hands back up if you are doing lean and keep them up while I ask the second question. If you are monitoring your shop floor please also raise your right hand.” Invariably, only 1 to 2 percent of the right hands go up. I then say, “unless you have both hands up right now, you might think you are doing lean, but you are not. You are kidding yourselves because you simply cannot be doing lean manufacturing because you do not know what is really happening on your shop floor.” I have never been challenged on this because it is simply a fact.

Lean manufacturing is a very broad term, but at its core it involves a set of practices that emphasizes reducing waste and doing more with less in all aspects of the business. You can only know if you are wasting resources if you know what is happening on your shop or plant floor.  Without data you can’t be doing lean. Many also believe lean manufacturing is much more and that it includes  customers, employees, managers, it is a business strategy, reducing development costs, increasing productivity, using the minimal number of resources, creating value streams, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), creating future state implementations, Kaizen, Hoshin, mura, muda, muri, 5S, six sigma, etc.

One of my favorite quotes is from Lord Kelvin: "in physical science the first essential step in the direction of learning any subject is to find principles of numerical reckoning and practicable methods for measuring some quality connected with it. I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be." Stated more succinctly, "if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Stated in just five words, "to measure is to know."

In internationally known manufacturing and OEE expert Bob Hansen’s seminal book, “Overall Equipment Effectiveness – A Powerful Production/Maintenance Tool for Increased Profits”, he discusses world-class manufacturing. Specifically, Hansen says, “World-class manufacturing areas share two characteristics. They are data driven and they are led by synergistic multi-function leadership teams. Accurately measuring and driving key success parameters contributes to higher productivity for both the area and the plant.” You cannot do OEE with quantifying metrics.

If you want to do lean manufacturing, then the first thing you need to do, as a manufacturer is to measure and monitor what is happening on the shop floor.  MTConnect is how you enable manufacturing equipment to make data available in an easy to read format using standard Internet protocols. After you MTConnect your shop floor, the next logical step is acquire a shop floor monitoring program so you can know what is happening and making changes accordingly to reduce costs and improve production. There are white papers at that can help you get started. Specifically, there are three white papers you should read if you truly want to do lean manufacturing by quantifying what is on your shop floor.
  • Getting Started With MTConnect Guide: Connectivity Guide
  • Getting Started With MTConnect:  Shop Floor Monitoring, What’s In It For Me?
  • Getting Started With MTConnect:  Writing Client Applications

In summary, don’t kid yourself into believing that you are doing lean manufacturing if you are not monitoring your shop floor.  Get started with MTConnect today if you are serious about lean manufacturing.