The rift between IT and Lean thinking occurred due to the incompatibility of existing manufacturing IT with the Lean environment at its conception.
Consider these contradictions between Lean and IT:
The key to Lean success is integration of technology, not complete removal. By reviewing technology to use it only where it adds a genuine advantage, and integrating systems to enable the automation of essential but non-specialist tasks (such as Kanbans), IT can add value to the processes surrounding manufacturing, and support the Lean environment. This boils down to applying the 5S philosophy (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain) to your IT: sort out what systems add value, set them in order (integrate), shine them up (BPO), standardize them (BPM), and sustain them through appropriate support. IT can demonstrate real value, in terms of modeling, data collection and assimilation for decision support at the point of attack.
The sales process – Far from putting information into the hands of a few, the skilled IT staff now puts it into the hands of many. For example, with Knowledge-Based Guided Selling, IT can be responsible for quickly pushing knowledge forward into the hands of those who need to use it. The sales process, even for complex and demand driven manufacturing, can therefore be simplified and expedited through the use of IT. This ensures “buildability” as well as the knowledge that the product being offered meets the needs of customers.
Demand planning – Where problems exist in determining just when a product will or can be built, people are usually at the center of the activities, and knowledge is local or specific. Modern demand-management applications assist in capturing knowledge about time and space constraints, which they use to sequence demand into available production slots. By understanding the constraints of the production process, IT can ensure that the lead-time quoted is accurate and based on facts not assumptions.
Material flow – Kanban systems were originally a purely visual system (i.e., the empty bin to be restocked) and are lauded by Lean purists. However, high-tech Kanban systems can be made to include automated steps and can be fully integrated with suppliers, improving efficiency throughout the supply chain. In the global supply chain, IT is irreplaceable because it enables information to be exchanged almost instantaneously, which otherwise would take valuable time. Software-based Kanban management systems provide an efficient way to transfer parts from one place to another and automatically drive the replenishment of those parts in response to the consumption of material by upstream events and signals.
This may still be where an empty bin or container that has been returned to the beginning of a manufacturing process, or equally, where a signal in the form of a replenishment request has been automatically sent to a stockroom or directly to a supplier.
Product and process management – Examining a complex product and its almost endless array of possible configurations today presents the Lean manufacturer with two major issues:
- How to acquire and assemble the necessary details about how a product is going to be built including its BOM, its route and relevant documentation such as work instructions, process sheets, safety sheets, etc.
- How to maintain that information as things change along the way (the product, the process, the standards, etc.
Again, these can be labor- and time-intensive tasks, which depend on the “local knowledge” of one or two engineers, resulting in a huge bottleneck centered on people. The most efficient and productive way to assemble all of this information in the first place is to do it using the knowledge gained during the sales process. Customer order attributes record information such as color and size as well as the operating parameters such as flow rate, temperature requirements and the environment. They also record information about exclusions, inclusions, prerequisites, etc. With an integrated IT system linking sales to planning, information such as the BOM, the route and the documents needed to support the product build can easily be collected from re-usable components. Thus, BOMs and routes in particular must be engineered to be modular in nature and attribute-driven.
Business process optimization – The ability to respond quickly and efficiently to any request, internal or external, can be seriously hampered by inefficient or manually restrictive processes. While important in any organization, a critical factor for the successful Lean enterprise is establishing an environment where actions that need to be taken and decisions that need to be made occur in or near real-time. Purists believe that IT hampers this by virtue of its basis in rules. However, if the IT system is highly enough configured, it should facilitate the process, becoming the catalyst for the event-enabled environment.
As manufacturers strive toward the Lean environment, many feel that they are reaching an impasse in terms of their IT. However, a relationship between Lean Manufacturing and IT doesn’t have to be like oil and water. If merged correctly, IT can improve manufacturing business processes in order to eliminate non-value-added activities and focus on the needs of the customer.
This is an edited excerpt of “Lean Manufacturing and IT – It’s not an oxymoron!” To view the full white paper, visit http://bit.ly/ocIgR5