Lean production is the pursuit for quality with minimized waste in the production process. It is originated from Toyota since the 1950s, when the company saw the possibility of improvements in the assembly line of automobiles in the United States (Jasti & Kodali, 2015). Through rounds of explorations and experiments, a comprehensive system of lean production was developed, which helped Japan to become a major contender in the automobile industry. Lean production was soon applied to manufacturing, electronics, computer, and aircraft making industries. The central idea of lean is to improve product quality though the perfection of workflow, improved technologies, organized logistics, and the elimination of inefficient labor and waste. With minimized input, lean production is able to return maximized output. In this paper, the application of lean in different areas will be demonstrated through two case studies, followed by an analysis of the future trends of lean production.
The idea of lean expands beyond the manufacturing industry, into any process that needs improvements in efficiency. As shown in the YouTube video, the people who suffered from Hurricane Sandy were having difficulties getting enough food. It is unimaginable how food was still on short supply six months after the catastrophe. This shows that the system of food distribution had huge room for improvement. While the volunteers and staff had all the passion in the world to help those in need, they had little idea about the potential improvements than lean was able to bring. Imported from the Toyota production system, the idea of lean management was to establish basic principles and stick to them strictly. One of the most efficient way of improving efficiency is by the elimination of waste.
However, there is no chance to target the source of waste without a thorough understanding of the entire food distribution process and the attention to details. It has been found that the original boxes used were way too big for the cans of food in them. Transportation of food was thus diminished since a lot of air was being transported at the same time. By redesigning the boxes to fit the products perfectly, the amount of air in a truck is significantly reduced, and the number of boxes per truck increased dramatically as well. It can be seen that lean management does not necessarily result in cost increases. In this case, it is the principal of minimizing waste and the attention to details that made the real difference. The packing area was another area that needed simplification. In the past, the time required to pack a box of food was 3 minutes. People were walking long distances in an unorganized manner. After creating a one-piece flow line, both the rate and the quality of packing improved. Working at the assembly line, the staff were able to pack a box in 11 seconds on average, which was only 6% of the original time required. The persistence under the guidelines of the basic principles can make a real difference, which in this case brought food to thousands of starving families more efficiently.
Lean applies not only to traditional industries, such as automobile, but also in innovative technologies. As the world’s biggest computer chip manufacturer, Intel has also applied the principles of Lean Six Sigma (LSS), not only in production, but also in research and development. For a company the size of Intel, it is crucial that the innovative ideas are properly evaluated. In Intel, a configuration control process frame has been developed, so that all initiatives from the R&D team go through three levels of review and approval. This ensures that both rejection and approval can be reflected quickly to the R&D team for adjustments. In the micro and Nano manufacturing environment, the idle time experienced by the researchers and engineers when they are halted by administrative processes is the biggest source of waste. Through direct observations, a significant amount of time is freed for the R&D team through the three-level frame (Panat, Dimitrova, Selvamuniandy, Ishiko & Sun, 2014). An efficient feedback system is also established so that engineers and researchers can learn more about the business process of Intel’s configuration control. As a result, they are able to adjust their work so that the idle time can be minimizing through coordination between different departments. During the configuration control, a quality tracking sheet is provided for the administrative level, so that the improvements in quality can be quantified for better evaluation. Although these steps can be executed voluntarily by the staffs themselves to work more efficiently, the standardization of these processes makes efficiency a habit. Through the elimination of idle time and implementation of LSS, the time needed for an evaluation process has been reduced to half of the original. The application of LSS has given Intel the ability to remain flexible, despite its size. Innovations from the R&D level are reaching the decision makers for evaluation at maximized efficiency. As a result, Intel is able to reduce the number of employees and costs, and expand to untouched areas of computing (Bailey, 2016). Lean management enabled Intel to become powerful, focused and versatile at the same time.
The ultimate goal of lean management is the elimination of waste, through attending to details in the products, inventory, cost, quality, maintenance, delivery and safety aspects. In the future, there will be more and more companies that are adopting the lean management style instead of the mass production in the past. As a brand-new way of management, lean will become the ultimate system of autonomy that adapts to different businesses and industries. Since being a business manager is my future job, an adjustment from the traditional way of seeing things is necessary.
Firstly, while mass production is market-oriented, the focus of lean production should be the minimization of cost in a stable and close supply chain. Excessive inventory is considered the biggest source of waste for lean production. By reducing inventory to the minimum amount, the flaws in the production system are more easily spotted and corrected. The constant perfection in production makes lean production flexible to any fluctuations in demand and the market. Management in lean production is more about the persistence of the basic principles. Instead of the constant monitoring and waste of human resources in mass production, the administrative process of lean production should be simplified as well. The increasing popularity in the future will be in alignment with the need to produce greener products. While defected products are considered inevitable in mass production, lean production focuses on the elimination of them through the constant reflection and perfection of the production process. As a result, there will be significantly reduced amount of resources required for lean production. The lean philosophy also requires the business manager to treat the staff as flexible human beings, not fixed parts in the assembly line. Finally, the majority of the consumers will be attracted by lean production in the coming decades, due to the enhanced quality and reduction of waste.
In conclusion, the importance of lean is that its ideas can be applied to completely different areas and still never fail. There exists waste in all processes conducted by human beings. The major reason of such waste is the lack of design and attention to details. Lean provides a systematic way of process design, so that waste can be minimized with increased quality. These ideas are applicable to not only traditional manufacturing, but also R&D in innovative industries, and charity works. In comparison to the mass production and large amount of inventory as a safety measure, lean production adopts a more dynamic approach in business management. In the foreseeable future, these advantages will gradually become the mainstream in both the production and the consumer’s sides.