Disadvantages of Lean Manufacturing (and How to Make Lean Work in Your Firm)

Posted by Jonathan Davies on 16 Dec


lean manufacturingLean Manufacturing seems to have everything going for it. What’s not to like about a system that works to minimise inventory, maximise efficiency, weed out wastage, and deliver just the goods your customer wants in a timely manner?

But despite all the success stories and bold claims, many firms have struggled with “lean” and some have even abandoned it. For all its promise, it’s clear that lean manufacturing, like any innovative system, can have its downsides.Here’s a look at some of the disadvantages of lean manufacturing and how you can avoid them for the success of your organisation.

Lack of Strategic Focus

One overreaching problem is that many firms adopting lean focus on tactics rather than on strategy. In doing so they lose sight of the big picture. The result is that the organisation flounders. The solution is straightforward. Rather than blaming lean manufacturing itself for the problem, managers need to base their lean initiatives on a clear and well-aligned strategy from the start.

Lack of Proper IT Systems

A process such as lean that depends on complex procedures such as JIT and TQM needs rock solid IT systems. Thus one of the key first stages of any lean implementation venture is to set up an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to enable rigorous planning and strategy formulation.

Such a system allows decision makers to accurately monitor what’s happening throughout the company and the whole business environment. Other than providing the key metrics management needs, sound data also reassures that lean processes are delivering quality results.

The Time Factor

Lean is far more than a set of tools you tack onto existing manufacturing processes: it’s a complete overhaul. For this reason it takes time and can be very disruptive. The result is often a fall off in productivity in the short term as work methods are changed. For these reasons, it’s important to take a long term approach and to establish the necessary software and other systems well in advance to ensure things runs smoothly from the start.

The Human Factor

Lean is a new and radical way of doing things and your workforce is on the front-line. Required operational changes are many. Workers need to work in self-directed teams handling problems themselves rather than under management direction, for example.

Change always results in stress and this is especially so in a system such as lean which is relentlessly focused on results. The solution is to systematically integrate lean into company culture, provide thorough and timely training, and establish clear guidelines and targets.

Cutting Things Too Fine

Lean production systems are praised for their ability to deliver products just as needed in just the right quantities. In the real world however, things often go awry through human or environmental error. If your system is too rigid, it can take just one traffic jam to delay delivery of raw materials and shut down production. At such times it’s easy to blame lean itself.

Again, proper training and effective control and planning software systems, along with allowing sufficient leeway in processes to handle any delays should alleviate most problems. Moreover, lean should only be implemented when you’re confident about your supply chain.

Harnessing Lean Manufacturing for Success

Ultimately, all firms are different with their own individual challenges and criteria. For this reason, lean’s disadvantages will be unique to each organisation. But done properly, with the right commitment and training, and with the right ERP software systems in place, lean manufacturing works.

Do lean the right way and it can give you the vital edge you need to produce high value quality products on time, every time. That way, you delight your customers, trump the competition, and become a market leader.

For more information on how ERP can help with Lean contact WinMan today from more information 0121 749 8050.

 Learn More About Lean

Topics: Lean Manufacturing

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