Complexity requires simplicity for Lean manufacturing

Lean manufacturing and the advent of Big Data have made operations more complex and the company needs to make the operational process as simple as possible to avoid chaos.


Image courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE MediaGone are the days when ASAP was good enough for a manufacturing business. The growth of Lean manufacturing has provided faster delivery to customers. Now, combining Lean, technology, analysis of Big Data and creative thinking, we’ve trained the customer to expect things to happen immediately. Being competitive requires customization at that same speed.

So, we add sizes, colors, capability options, and every other distinguishing characteristic we can conceive. Done well, that results in increased sales and profits. Done poorly, it can kill a business. Understanding customer use of a product and focus on simplifying complexity are requirements of success.

Complexity costs are not easily quantified, but they must be appreciated. Product derivative and customization strategies that ignore the very real impacts of complexity can slice margins, induce errors, and engulf an organization in chaos. Standard costs will mislead decision-making even more than usual and the executive team needs to acknowledge that. 

Added options inject inventory management ramifications, opportunities for error in order entry, production and shipping, and additional transactions from BOMs to purchasing to receiving to accounts payable. This potential waste and confusion can be eliminated or minimized by creating systems that consider strategic implications from the beginning.

Postponement processes–waiting until the last possible moment to finalize an item for a specific customer–can simplify execution of mass customization. A product design team that doesn’t understand postponement or design products to facilitate it will undermine that operational strategy.

Too many non-operational executives believe that shipping to one more country is easy. They fail to understand that adding one more color or size or software option or customer label grows complexity. Operational leadership must ensure scalable processes and parts rationalization. Modular product design using common parts and processes designed to eliminate costly transactions are requisite to simplification thinking. 

Design engineers and product marketing may well not understand how important simplicity is to creating and meeting market expectations. We can’t afford not to. Lean alone didn’t enable rising customer expectations and alone it won’t ensure simplification. Perhaps not intuitively obvious, technology and analytics are integral to simplification. We have access to more data more quickly than ever, and to ignore it as “not Lean” is silly. If data is valuable, use it. If it’s not, don’t create it in the first place. That thinking is at the core of simplification and of Lean.

What additional opportunities do you have to simplify work lives within your organization?

-Becky Morgan is an AME board member for the Great Lakes Region. This article originally appeared on AME's blogAME is a CFE Media content partner.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me