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Feb 4, 2012

Lean Production

To start off with, what is lean production? One definition of lean production is; a manufacturing performance improvement approach and philosophy that emphasizes the minimization of the amount of all the resources (including time).

It involves identifying and removing non-value-adding activities in design, production, supply chain management, and dealing with the customers. Put simply it's a way to cut costs by taking away/minimizing time consuming activities. Note that implementing lean production is difficult.

The lean manufacturing history is thought to stem from the research Ford carried out in 1986 on Toyota, the business strategies implemented reduced production times, giving lower costs per unit, but it also gave an increase to quality. The lean manufacturing success of Toyota sparked the beginning of a new production method.

A common mistake among students is to identify lean production with Just in Time (JIT), although it is a part of it, it is not the basis of the production method. When/if a business decides to become a lean producer there and 4 principles they must apply for the lean strategy to work:

Lean quality
Lean design
Lean people management
Lean component supply

Lean Design

The first of the lean techniques involves assessing and improving upon product development, or product modifications, so that the firm can quickly and efficiently adapt to the changing business environment. Computer aided design (cad software) is one of the most flexible and quickest method for firms to design new products quickly, and transfer new product ideas from the conception stage to the market, this can lead to first mover advantage. First mover advantages include such things as; A high, if not 100% market share in the product, brand loyal customers (since they can see you as the first, therefore the best) and allows the business to establish a foot-in-the-door effect, which is needed to focus customers on their specific product when the copy firms move in.

When lean companies look for speedy product development and launch, time-based management plays a crucial role. Time-based management is, essentially, minimizing the time between product design and product launch. It looks for the areas in the business where simultaneous engineering can take place (decision trees are a good example of this) which cuts costs by saving time and money.

Lean quality

Quality is an expensive area for business organisations, but there are greater costs when ignoring quality. Bad quality can lead to bad publicity, a poor brand image and a great loss of customer loyalty. On the human resource side of things, one of the best ways to increase quality is by training the employees in all aspects of the production, making them multi skilled and making them feel more empowered giving greater motivation. The importance of quality will also be reflected throughout a firm's culture. Quality techniques include quality circles and kaizen groups: using both of these would be the best way to bring in ideas from employees, this brings greater employee motivation and productivity.

Lean people management

What is people management? People management is simply as it says, a way in which people involved in and outside the business are treated and used. Lean producers will aim to fully utilize all the skills and ideas of their workers. They will attempt to ensure that all their workers are fully trained and multi skilled in the businesses production methods. Empowerment and delegation are key to lean people management and they therefore create participation schemes to enable staff to contribute their ideas and experiences. This not only makes them feel valued, but also benefits the firm by getting ideas from experienced workers. This delegation of decision-making power makes workers feel more involved and, therefore, more committed to the business objectives of the firm. Motivation is key to productivity and therefore lower costs.

Lean Component supply

Just-in-time (JIT) is a system of stock management that involves only requesting a new supply of materials once there is a definite need. This is the moment students say 'Good, JIT, I know all about that.' But, in addition to understanding the benefits of JIT such as: saving money on space and insurance and removing the risk of holding stocks that may become damaged or obsolete (as with food), the opportunity costs also need to be considered. The firm will no longer be able to benefit from bulk-buying discounts (economies of scale) or be able to respond immediately to a customer order. The conditions necessary for JIT to work also have to be recognised. The firm must have reliable suppliers who are able to supply on demand with a short delivery time. Proximity is always good and accessibility is also important for a quick supply and delivery.

Conclusion

To summarize, the key aspects of lean production students should know that: Lean production is expensive, there are high start up costs and it cannot be applied to every business, most economies of scale advantages are lost and it can take a long time for the workforce to adapt to a such a change and some employees may reject the changes.