Since its beginnings as the Toyota Production System decades ago, lean manufacturing has revolutionised the way we produce goods. After propelling the Japanese automotive industry to world leader status, lean was taken up by Western firms inspired by its potential to reduce waste and boost efficiency and productivity.
Its attractions are many. Adopting a lean approach can deliver a whole raft of desirable benefits including improved quality, lead times, productivity, efficiency, employee involvement and ease of management.
That’s an extremely desirable list. But you only reap these benefits if you do things right. That means implementing the right system, constantly monitoring it, and adjusting processes as necessary. In a complex business world, that’s not easy and the sad fact is that many businesses face problems when they consider and adopt lean.
Here are some of the main issues companies can face with lean manufacturing and some ways to alleviate them.
Lack of Urgency
Many firms never get round to adopting a lean approach. After all, it’s easy to be complacent when business is doing well. If the order books are full and the production lines humming nicely, why go bother with the expense and disruption of applying new systems?
The fact is that things are seldom as rosy as they seem. Waste is often hidden, metrics are fuzzy, and there may simply be a lack of awareness of of the scope for improvement. In such cases, only a thorough and expert audit and analysis of the current setup can reveal deficiencies and identify potential.
The Time Factor
Managers can get frustrated if results aren’t as dramatic and immediate as hoped. This is why having the right systems in place can be so helpful. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, in particular, can help decision makers establish realistic projections and targets for lean manufacturing and then ensure they’re always on top of what’s happening in the company. It’s also important to understand lean manufacturing is more of a process than a procedure and for maximum benefit has to be ongoing.
Modern production is a complex process and each phase has its own key metrics which need to be accurately monitored in order to gauge the efficacy of the lean process. Such metrics will vary between firms and include such matters as inventory levels, unit costs and delivery schedules.
Choosing the wrong metrics or focusing on less important parts of the process can lead to a loss of clarity. Again, ERP can work here to identify the key aspects of the process to be monitored and ensure the important data is delivered and analysed accurately and on time.
Obstacles from Company Culture
Implementing a lean approach represents a major change in the way the company is run and managed, and this can lead to resistance from managers and employees. The main solution is to educate staff as to how the new system will improve productivity and quality, and ultimately make their lives easier and more rewarding.
One of the benefits of ERP systems is that they put key data into the hands of those who need it thereby empowering staff at all levels. By demonstrating confidence in their workers and rewarding them for increased responsibility, firms can gain support for the new lean system and build commitment and loyalty.
The Key Role of ERP
Clearly the effective adoption of lean manufacturing demands knowledge in the form of actionable data that systems such as ERP software are equipped to deliver. Suitably armed with comprehensive enterprise-wide data, managers can implement and manage a lean system that’s both aligned to company strategy and values, and also reflects the realities of the business environment and the marketplace.