Tag Archives: lean manufacturing

IoT, Industry 4.0 & 21st Century Lean

Just two days to go before our 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference, an opportunity for all of us to put aside the tactical realities of Covid-19 and think more strategically about the future of society.  Our theme this year, 21st Century Lean, deals with the humanistic application of technology, in particular information technology, in the coming decades.  Concepts like the Internet of Things (IoT, coined in 1999) and Industry 4.0 (first referenced in 2011) are rapidly moving to center stage.  The goals of each are laudable:

  • IoT is the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and perhaps even humans -embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity- that enable these to collect and exchange data.  This capability could support a worldwide Utopia of sharing, innovation and best use of scarce resources; but it could also support a dystopic world such as that painted in George Orwell’s 1984.  When Orwell’s book was published in 1949, IoT was entirely science fiction.  Today it’s approaching science fact, making the questions he raised 70 years ago urgent.
  • Industry 4.0 is more narrowly defined as a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity- that enable these objects to collect and exchange data. The expressed goal here is to accommodate an anticipated shortage of human workers in the coming decades. Population studies suggest rapid population growth for the remainder of this century to perhaps 10 billion people, but thereafter a sharp decline.  And in some more industrialized countries, a shortage of labor already exists.  As with IoT, the impact of Industry 4.0 may be viewed as yet another advancement in productivity and quality; and like IoT, it’s knocking on our doorsteps.  It’s no longer science fiction as noted in a 1964 episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.  Here is a link to a 90 second clip, from “The Brain Center at Whipple’s,” but for those of you with Netflix, I recommend the full 30-minute version. 

So where does Lean fit into these strategies?  Must we adapt some of the thinking to new technology?  A client of mine, for example, once asked “If Mr. Shingo were alive today, with all of the automation we have, would he have invented mistake-proofing?”   Or are the principles and concepts of Lean more important than ever before to help us reign in our impulses; to aim for, as my teacher, Hajime Oba once said “what we should do, not what we can do.”   In 2003, speaking at SME’s Eastec Exhibit in Springfield, Mass, Mr. Oba was asked, “Why do American manufacturers get so little benefit from TPS?”  Mr. Oba responded without hesitation, “First, management does not understand TPS and second they are focused only on quarterly earnings.”   Did Mr. Oba have Mr. Whipple in mind?

Here is my 10th and final Lean Peeve before the conference: short-term thinking.  It’s not too late to invest in a little strategic thinking about this critical and now urgent idea of harmonizing the best of Lean Transformation and Digital Transformation.  Take a couple days to stop worrying about what’s going to happen the next month. Give yourself a break, and join our discussion about where our world is headed for next century.  Hope to see you at the conference.

O.L.D.

Trivia Break

I woke up this morning to some very unsettling news, or should I say yet another crescendo in seven months of unsettling news.  Wishing the President and everyone in his sphere affected by this latest chapter of Covid-19 a speedy recovery, I’ll take the easy way out today with a short list of Trivia covering Lean and IoT for you to ponder over the weekend.  How many of these questions can you answer without using the Internet?

  • Who is the creator of the X-Type Matrix for Policy Deployment? 
  • Who did Shigeo Shingo pay homage to as “his teacher’s teachers”?
  • What is the literal translation of Poka-Yoke? 
  • When was The Machine That Changed The World published?
  • What is the difference between Internet of Things and Industry 4.0?
  • Who coined the term “knowledge worker”?
  • When was Toast Kaizen first videoed? 
  • Who said “If this Lean stuff seems easy, you’re probably not doing it.” ?
  • When was the World Wide Web invented?
  • When was the first toaster connected to the Internet?  

Have a relaxing weekend, puzzling over this trivia – think of it as preparation for next week’s big event.  Just four days to the 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference.  I’ll be back on Monday with another Lean Peeve. 

Stay safe,

O.L.D.

By the way: On the afternoon of the first day of our conference we’ll also take a break from serious inquiry for some “Lean Before Dark” fun that may include more Trivia with a few prizes and possibly some asynchronous Karaoke.  Hope you can join in for the learning and for the fun.  Hope to see you. 

Standard Units

“What’s measured improves.” So said famed management consultant and author, Peter Drucker.  Assuming we are measuring the right things, how do standard units of measure affect our perceptions of improvement?  As a youngish Manufacturing Manager, I lived in a world of standard units: pounds and kilograms, dozens and pecks, feet and inches, years, months and days. The units themselves created expectations. For example, lead-time, was typically expressed in “business days” apparently assuming that weekends represented a void.  In fact, for longer lead-time purchased parts, weeks were a more common unit.  For engineering projects, Gantt charts were expressed in months.  And business performance was tracked by quarters.  Each of these units, typically rounded up to the nearest whole number and crystalized by our ERP system, implied a cadence to which we operated. Weekly bucketing of factory orders, which preceded the advent of computers, continued as a unit for factory loading, inadvertently creating hills and valleys in the production schedule. Factory productivity was measured monthly.  We operated in an environment of self-inflicted unevenness.  Standard Units are Lean Peeve #9

As my organization began to study Lean, it became apparent that standard units for measuring time were limiting visibility and therefore our improvement.  Units of measure were effectively synonymous with frequency of measurement.   Daily huddles, for example, included discussion of problems that were already one-day old, but I viewed this response time as significantly better than previous, when huddles occurred only weekly.  

Then my company hooked up with TSSC, a division of Toyota that specializes in sharing TPS thinking with committed organizations.  One of my first assignments was to visit each product cell hourly to initial a Production Activity Log and immediately address any problems reported by the team lead.  I recall the words of my consultant at the time: “Bruce, you’re being very disrespectful of your employees by letting problems fester for hours.”    Based upon the amount of daily activity that had previously been reported in our daily huddles, I thought to myself “No big deal,” assuming the hourly follow-up would not be arduous.

That assumption turned out to be very wrong.  Problems were occurring from the starting bell to day’s end, and those that were unaddressed, often recurred multiple times during the day: missing parts, broken fixtures, defects, documentation questions.   These had been mostly invisible to me at the daily huddles because of brute force heroics and work arounds by the front line. And all of those previously invisible problems were baked into another standard unit we called our fixed lead-time.   Fixing these problems in something closer to real-time was exhausting, but also exhilarating.   The point is, it wasn’t just “what’s measured.”  It was also how often it’s measured that was important.   Accelerating the cadence of problem-solving created flow.   From there on, I began to measure in hours, minutes and seconds what had previously been measured with a calendar.  Time is a continuum, but the standard units that we use to chunk it up have a profound impact on how we measure. 

I’ve covered just one standard unit in this Lean Peeve, but there are hundreds!  How many can you think of?

O.L.D. 

Speaking of standard units, there is less than a week to GBMP’s annual conference.  Or should I say less than 120 hours until the 16th Annual Northeast Lean Conference gets under way.  Invest less than two-days of your time on October 7-8 and receive over 50,000 seconds of Lean sharing and inspiration for only $345.  That’s less than a penny a second!   In fact, we’re throwing in free use of LEANFLIX, GBMP’s award-winning streaming video content site, to all conference attendees.  Hope you can join us. 

Superficial Improvement

Several years ago, I wrote a post (worth a quick re-read) entitled, “Rosie the Robot,” wondering how technology changes that have emerged in this century will affect continuous improvement efforts.   Now, with just a week to go before our 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Lean Conference, I’ll add this thought regarding my 8th Lean Peeve,  what Shigeo Shingo called superficial improvement, transferring a manual waste to a machine.

Having spent thirty years in manufacturing in the last century before becoming a consultant, I had a chance to be up close and personal with these kinds of superficial improvement:

  • High-speed machines that outproduced customer need by orders of magnitude.
  • IT systems that pushed instructions to over-produce into the factory before we knew what was actually needed. (I was an IT manager for six years.)
  • Fork lifts that carried the unneeded inventory to the stockroom.
  • High-bay automatic storage and retrieval systems that efficiently stored large quantities of inventory that were not needed.

These examples actually MULTIPLIED waste rather than reducing it — in the name of local efficiency.

Superficial improvement is supported not only by conventional cost accounting but also by this simplistic equation: 

Mechanization = Process Improvement

I wonder sometimes if this equation is taught in Engineering 101, because it’s a staple for many a machine justification. 

In fact, while the intelligent use of mechanization in the 20th century absolutely extended human capability, a great deal of that mechanization also, as in the examples above,  just created waste more efficiently.   Now, as we enter the next decade of this century, the emergence of powerful new technologies, referred to collectively as IoT, the Internet of Things, promise even greater enhancement to human capability. 

But is there also a risk that even greater waste may also be an outcome?  Effective convergence of digital transformation with  Lean transformation is the theme of this year’s Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference, 21st Century Lean.  I hope you’ll be able to join us for this significant discussion. 

O.L.D.

Us and Them

Lean Peeve #7 is about the human divide that kills continuous improvement:
Us & Them

Over years of listening to persons describe their work, one single word has surfaced repeatedly as a barometer of what is frequently called “culture.”   The use of the word they in conversation, gives me insight into an organization’s ability to engage employees and sustain improvement. 

The technical aspects of Lean I can observe primarily with my eyes:

  • the flow of material and information,
  • the stability, repeatability and clarity of work
  • adherence to standards
  • alignment of resources to strategic objectives.

These are artifacts, physical manifestations, of Lean and together are necessary to an organization’s Lean development.  But alone, the technical efforts provide only a cursory understanding of culture.  For example, too often I visit workplaces that exhibit evidence of Lean tools and systems, but are lacking a spirit of improvement.  Deming Prize recipient Ryuji Fukuda refers to a “favorable environment” as a work atmosphere that supports employee participation and nourishes that spirit.  This environment is not easily visible from the Lean artifacts.  In fact, organizations willing and able spend money can create an appearance of Lean, with no real change in culture at all.  One large manufacturer I visited recently actually farms out improvement projects to subcontractors.  They are outsourcing Lean implementation – or so they think. 

One word gives these companies away:  they.   It’s a word that refers variously to management, employees, other departments or divisions, external suppliers, boards of directors – any parties involved in the flow of goods and services to the customer. When I visit a company, I’m not only looking for the use of Lean tools and systems, but I’m also counting They’s.  Let’s call it a They Assessment.   

Sometimes they alludes to an adversarial relationship.  “They don’t listen to us”, a nurse told me when I asked her about a scheduling snafu that left patients overflowing in a waiting room.  “Who are they?” I asked.  “The docs,” she said.  “All doctors?” I asked.  “Some more than others,” she replied.”  Notice that the pronoun they objectifies an entire group.  

In other instances, they connotes a more passive separation: “They won’t support these changes” is a concern I hear often, and it could just as well be spoken by top managers or by employees depending on frame of reference.  When I’m speaking to a production department, support departments like IT or engineering are often in the they category.  And the effect is reciprocal.  If one function refers to another as they, the other department will always respond in kind.

They is a red flag word.  It’s frequency and location of use in conversation paint a picture of the business environment: favorable or unfavorable.  Organizations with a stronger Lean culture will refer more frequently to “we” in describing their work.   In one company, for example, assembly employees repeatedly referred to the engineering department as “we” even though engineering was clearly a separate entity on the organizational chart.  The same production department, however, referred to a subassembly department as they, even though both departments worked side by side in the same physical area.   As organizations develop the favorable environment, they is incrementally replaced by “we”, the ideal condition being no they’s at all.   Short of that ideal, when I hear the word they I note a relationship problem that is holding back the essential spirit of improvement. 

Recently, I visited a company that was considering the Shingo Prize model as a template for company improvement.  The plant manager greeted me in the lobby with these words:

“We’d like to know more about the Shingo model and how it can help us improve.  We feel like we’ve made a lot of improvement in the last five years, but have hit a plateau.”

Indeed, there were technical challenges for this company that were apparent on a tour of the shop floor.  Operational availability was still low and inventories still too high.   But not a single they was spoken.   In a company of several hundred people, from management to the factory floor, only “we” and “us” were heard.   I responded to the plant manager’s question,

“The Shingo Prize model will certainly help your plant past its technical plateau, but as far as I can hear your potential for improvement is very high.”

How would your plant fare with a They Assessment?  Which are toughest relationships to forge?  Let me hear from you. 

O.L.D.

Are you planning to check out GBMP’s Northeast Lean Conference, 21st Century Lean, next week? (Wednesday and Thursday October 7-8 to be exact.) Time is running out to register yourself, and some team members, for this tremendous opportunity to re-energize your Lean team and implementation. Covid-19 challenges of the last several months have highlighted the critical need to speed innovation in delivery of products and services – central themes to both Lean and IoT. In that spirit, GBMP pivoted our 16th annual event to a virtual approach — to bring our Lean community together in an engaging but safe environment. Please, join us.