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The Topic of Lean Manufacturing

Siemens Experimenter Siemens Experimenter
Siemens Experimenter

Late last year, November to be exact, I did a webinar with my colleagues Jeff Miller and Zvika Weissman on developing lean manufacturing processes.  It’s currently available for replay (registration required) in case you missed it.

Having done a lean webinar earlier the same year, I decided to take on the topic of lean by asking the audience to consider three questions:


  • Are you implementing waste?

  • Are you maximizing your return?

  • Are you driving continuous improvement?




Now, we all know that lean is a journey requiring cultural shifts, management commitment and in all cases, a dogged determination to institutionalize lean behaviors; it’s the bedrock of a lean institution.  Yet, with the complexity of global economies, shifting demographics and broadening competition, today’s world requires that we look at how technology can assist our lean initiatives.  This was the reason for asking these three questions.

There is no doubt that traditional lean initiatives provide value, but when you ask the questions I’m asking, it becomes clear that the traditional strategy will never return what a digital manufacturing enabled strategy can.  According to a recent paper written by CIMdata entitled Enabling Lean for More Flexible Manufacturing; “…digital manufacturing allows engineers to tune the line in a virtual environment—increasing early efficiencies to levels unachievable by deploying and continuously improving”.   So technology, specifically digital manufacturing technology, allows for efficiencies unachievable through traditional lean initiatives.  The question points to the fact that waste in planning production, leads to waste in actual production.  So the answer to the question is, yes, you are implementing waste.  Although never eliminated entirely, the technology takes what’s achievable to another level altogether.

Yet, the waste coefficient of the question I raise actually begins in design.  Take for instance the dimensional quality of a product.  Analyzing assembly constraints and tolerances in the context of the process itself provides insight into how robust a design is.  In many cases we are able to change the design to eliminate costly tooling (over-processing) and even unnecessary labor before the design is even released.

In addition, this type of analysis provides the insight into a more robust inspection strategy by highlighting the major contributors to dimensional variation.  We can eliminate inspection of features that aren’t critical to variation, saving time and reducing equipment investments.  The value of designing lean, robust products is amplified then when we actually start to plan production.

This was clearly stated by Wu Shigiang, Director, Process Technology at Chery Automobile Co., Ltd; “This lets us assess and optimize the product design, configure part tolerance, improve the positioning and assembly processes, and manage and take control of downstream manufacturing errors”. Feel free to read the case study here.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, I haven’t even started to talk about production planning, but you’re in luck… register here for an upcoming webinar titled:  Virtual Validation and Optimization of Manufacturing Systems, to see how digital manufacturing optimizes production giving you a solution to the problem of implementing waste.

Stay tuned, I’ll be exploring the second question in my next post, until then: keep it lean and green!

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