Operator Systems | How can the true vision of LEAN be realised?
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How can the true vision of LEAN be realised?

Nowadays, manufacturing companies need to adjust to an increasingly demanding environment. Globalisation, cost reduction and the continuing need to introduce new products forces manufactures to continuously improve the production process. It is within this context that most companies are initiating Lean cultures and programs to become more competitive.

The Lean concept has been well known for many years – in a nutshell: Lean helps us to make the right product in the right time and deliver it to the customer at just the time he needs it, with as limited resources as possible.

Since Lean strategy became popular a lot of companies started to implement these techniques manually, without any IT support. Unfortunately – as we can read in MESA Lean Manufacturing Strategic Initiative Guidebook – “the results have sometimes been so successful that many beneficiaries have called into question the need for using information technology in Lean deployments.

The truth is that manual Lean techniques will deliver some early benefits, but a Lean deployment absent of technology is unlikely to sustain and will not scale to achieve a Lean enterprise.”

With state-of-the-art manufacturing execution systems (MES) or manufacturing operations management (MOM) systems, manufacturers now can gain insight into their entire supply chain, from source through to consumption. Manufacturers implementing these technologies and driving towards a fully Lean system will see additional incremental business benefits.

Contemporary MES/MOM combines technologies such as the Internet, Web services, XML, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and other real-time shop floor technologies which allow monitoring and management of all aspects of the supply chain execution process.

State-of-the-art manufacturing systems (MES or MOM) support the implementation of a LEAN strategy by:

  • Eliminating unnecessary activities – automating job ordering and data collection in order to keep personnel focused on direct value-added activities.
  • Eliminating waste by introducing paperless production process execution and for example, registering scrap and rework.
  • Integrating systems across Product development/engineering, operations, warehouse and quality departments can greatly streamline processes, eliminating manual steps and time wasted in activities like waiting for paperwork to travel through approval processes.
  • Providing real-time visibility of shop-floor status and issues to support real-time decisions to optimise flow and resolve issues. Lean is highly dependent upon the accuracy and timeliness of the data produced and collected during the production processes, including machine uptime, process cycle time or days of WIP inventory. This data is critical for continuously improving the process and thereby the whole supply chain realisation process.
  • Enabling One-piece Flow by alleviating the need for combining multiple units into a single work order to reduce paperwork and scheduling.
  • Improve Quality Assurance. Quality issues have been identified as a major source of time and material waste. MOM systems with QA modules help improvement efforts including:
    • Automation of inspection and data collection
    • Real time alerts for out-of-control situations based on statistical analysis
    • Systematic enforcement of sampling and auditing rules
    • Tracking of corrective action efforts
  • Manufacturing systems can also enforce standard disciplines and work practices, including production sequences, production methods, work instructions, and quality and safety checks.
  • Modern MOM systems also integrate logistics (inc. worldwide) with production execution. This integration facilitates Just-in-Time pull process.
  • Thanks to full visibility and specialised highly configurable notification systems some MES systems can be configured to raise alerts based on rules and immediately flag up issues in real-time.

Many Lean programs focus solely on improving the manufacturing process, but Lean techniques also can be applied to other areas of an enterprise. For instance, the output of the manufacturing process (finished goods) could naturally be defined as the input (inventory receipt) of the distribution process. Only the appropriate use of technology can build the cross-functional bridges required to bring multiple processes together.

So in other words – If you really want to get return on investment on your Lean initiative – use a MES or MOM system to support it and ensure that the lean KPI’s are sustained over time.

Tommy V. Larsen

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