How lean are you? Part 6 – Gemba walk as lean assessment

Measuring leanness is not always necessary, for instance when gathering qualitative clues is good enough for the purpose of the assessment. This would be the case for qualifying a supplier or find improvement topics.

Part 1 to part 4 of this series describe quantitative leanness assessment

Gemba walk as qualifying audit

When it comes to select and qualify a supplier in a list of candidates, before awarding him/her a contract over several years and develop a real partnership, it is wise to pay a visit to the facilities and assess the candidate’s performance and abilities.

Many such qualifying processes start with a standard questionnaire designed to gather some basic information. Many of these inquiries include questions about improvement programs, past lean initiatives and planned projects.

Some KPIs are also required in order to get an idea about the actual performance level and remaining improvement potential, which is a hint about actual risks for the customer as well as hint for future discounts as “shared improvement benefits”.

Yet figures can be misleading if it is not possible to differentiate effectiveness from efficiency or simply because all candidates want to appear at their best and dress their window accordingly.

In order to cross-check provided information, a gemba walk is a good tool. Such a walk would first check if the customer’s representative can walk the supplier’s talk or said simply: does the reality match the alleged situation, is the supplier trustworthy?

It doesn’t take lot of data to do this. Lean and non-lean situation are often highly contrasted, so evidences in both cases are easy to find.

As the outcome is a binary answer about confidence in the actual performance and potentials of the supplier, a lean expert word after a gemba walk is enough.


If supplier claims to pay keenest attention to quality but the shop floor is messy, dirty, with material and parts staked everywhere, the quality of delivered goods may be the result of thorough checking and filtering and come at high cost and not as a result of efficient and standard processes.

This exposes the customer to some risk regarding product’s quality, delivery – in quantity and time – as well as supplier’s potential bankruptcy in severe cases (his margin annihilated by excessive costs).

If changeover time is long and obviously SMED approach and techniques not known or mastered, flexibility can’t be good.

In case of shared resources with limited sprint capacity, it is likely that customers’ priority changes – something all B2B customers allow themselves – will disrupt the planning and lead to chaotic handling.

The deliveries would be at jeopardy and it is common that the customer shouting loudest will be given highest priority.

This means a lot of efforts for a given customer to secure his supplies. A kind of risk no auditor takes lightly.

Yet on a questionnaire alone, this kind of problem can seldom be foreseen.

Touring the shop floor reveals a lot about the company’s culture:

  • Do people look anxious and in haste or do they work smoothly and efficiently?
  • Do they wear required protections? Do they work in a well-tended, clean and well-lit environment?
  • Do they pay attention to material, parts, tools and equipment?
  • Is garbage visible somewhere?

Many of these kind of questions address discipline, morale, management and employee’s engagement.

These soft facts may influence the company’s performance and can only be sensed in situ.


Assessing leanness most often does not require complex measurement and ranking tools, a gemba walk by an expert is enough to give a grading and make a decision in an audit.

About me


What is a gemba walk?

A gemba walk is paying a visit to the “real place”, “where it happens”, the gemba. This visit is a critical one, as the visitor wants to make his mind about a problem, about the way things are done or in a broader sense, to check if it is possible to walk the talk.

In a Jan 9, 2014 industryweek blog post, Bill Wilder explains gemba as:

In short, it’s the place that matters most. It could be a crime scene: In Poe’s The Tell-tale Heart, gemba is that heart thumping under the floorboards. In sports, it’s wherever the ball is. In business, it’s the place where real value is created, the place where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. In other words, gemba is the beating heart of your organization.

How does Jim Womack define what is Gemba? / what is a Sensei?

The gemba walk is a management practice to grasp the situation before taking action. Jim Womack

Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect

John Shook, CEO of Lean Enterprise Institute in a Jun 22, 2011 industryweek blog post explains quite extensively what a gemba walk is, summarizing it in this mantra: Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect.

You may read the post here:
Alternate source:

About me

In short and from my point of view, Go See is a way to check if what is done is contributing to the organization’s goal / purpose, well aligned and if the processes don’t waste resources. Deviations are opportunities to improve but may be disqualifiers in case of client’s audit. A gemba walk is a kind of Lean assessment. Such a walk can reveal much about Lean maturity, discipline, culture, performance and consistency with alleged policy, hence the question: can we walk the talk?
A gemba walk can reveal improvement opportunities, especially when seeing some kind of waste (Muda, Mura or Muri) or give important clues about a problem.

Ask why is meant to validate your assumptions and understanding when observing processes during the walk. Those who know best why something is done in this strange or efficient manner are people contributing to this process. The way of asking matters, the recommendation is not to push own opinion or conclusion but truly ask why and listen carefully to the answer. Ask why in the right way is also an inductor for people to discover the waste or uselessness of some task and letting them the opportunity to propose an improvement.

Showing respect starts with good behavior but it’s more than saying hello. Stick to the rules like wearing safety shoes and helmet where required, keep on walking where allowed, don’t touch material and parts…
Showing respect is also considering that even the most humble person involved in operations is a subject matter expert of sorts, knowing his/her job and all ins and outs far better than the gemba walker. Showing respect is giving this kind of person opportunity to express his/her analysis and ideas about actual situation and possible improvements.

Furthermore, these people are doing the work, creating value and contributing to organization’s purpose.

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Related: What is Gemba?


Goal tree chronicles – ToC is about focusing

This post is a post scriptum to the previous one of this series, relating how a Goal Tree could have helped a pharma plant. In this plant, top management selected more than 20 streams as strategic and worked to achieve the related objectives.

The trouble with this approach is the vast number of objectives to monitor for the top management and the dilution of efforts and resources.

Theory of Constraints (ToC) practitioners keep repeating it, ToC is about focusing on the constraint, thus finding the leverage point. The Goal Tree is a simple but powerful tool to achieve this. From the Goal or vision statement, a logical suite of Critical Success Factors and Necessary Conditions is built with a necessity-based relationship as a rule.

Goal Tree

Goal Tree

Anything that does not obey to the “in order to achieve X we need Y” logical relation is to be discarded.

Following this rule strictly prevents any drifting away from what is really essential and required.

For me, reflecting on this pharma plant experience, it is a brilliant demonstration how easily limited resources can be wasted on secondary objectives.

Even with a Hoshin Kanri to structure the cascade of objectives, I believe many of these 20 streams would have found their way into the X-matrix, keeping the dilution of resources.

Using a Goal Tree as stand-alone tool or in conjunction with Hoshin Kanri is the best approach for efficient outcome.

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences!

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Goal tree chronicles – The pharma plant

Author, Chris HOHMANN

Years ago, long before I knew about Goal Trees, we got an assignment in a major pharma plant.

We were hired to help ops teams to improve throughput and efficiency, one of a 20+ streams project. Indeed, plant’s top management worked out a strategic plan for the three next years, containing more than twenty “strategic goals”.

Common sense (misnamed for it is far from common) tells that if a business is dependent on so many very important goals, it is either a startup or likely to fail! The same common sense tells that probably there is some exaggeration about the ‘strategic’ status of some of them.

Coming much too late (and after a strategy consultant), there was no way to influence the project that had already been started and publicized. Furthermore it was only because ops could not deliver that we’ve been called for help. We just witnessed the project management.

And it was the case. As you can imagine, the 20+ list of strategic goals was made of a mixture of:

  • really needed breakthroughs, Critical Success Factors, as I will discover later
  • Necessary Conditions, which as their name tells are conditions necessary to achieve some objective
  • restoring some basics, or put bluntly, solve problems and drifts that should never had happen
  • and nice-to-haves, or some managers’ wishes and local objectives.

As a consequence of such a rich collection of “strategic goals”, monthly project reviews tried to review about 10 streams in one hour, which left a few minutes to display a synthetic slide about progress so far, the next steps and roadblocks for each stream.

Those meetings were seated, with an audience varying from six to twenty attendants, bringing their laptops and smartphones. Why some of them were in a room was a mystery. I made my own conclusion: if you want to be considered as a manager, you must behave like a manager. That means spending lot of time in meetings. Any meetings.

Few presenters were gifted with summarizing and getting-right-to-the-point skills. Adding to the boredom. Few attendants could refrain from texting, emailing or else during the review. Thus no meeting would finish on time nor address all agenda’s points. Next meetings started later and top managers got home late every night.

It was common that meetings scheduled in the late afternoon just got cancelled without prior notice, even all of them were of high importance and top priority.

The CEO, gentle mannered and kind man, lacked the authority to keep meetings on track and his staff focused. To me he looked like an apprentice juggler trying to keep his 20+ ‘strategic’ balls in the air. Invariably a large number of them ended on the floor and despite all of them were vital, those on the ground could lay there for a while before being picked up again.

Now familiar with Goal Trees, I can mentally replay the story and structure it for better outcome with much less hassle.


Top management would first be invited to state the Goal and the few top objectives or Critical Success Factors, limited to five (my advice).
From these few real and carefully picked Critical Success Factors, the top management than would define the first upper rows of Necessary Conditions (NCs). Each of them would have to pass the test of the logical “for achieving… we need…”. Any candidate condition not withstanding this test would have to be discarded.

Once the top of the Goal Tree drawn and checked, top managers would turn to their staff and continue the Necessary Conditions inventory down to ops level.

Goal Tree

Goal Tree

Next step would be an ‘as-is’ assessment for each NC using the Green/Amber/Red color code I described in another post. Turning Amber and Red NCs into Green ones then become staff’s objective.

The CEO and the top managers keep monitoring CSFs and top most NCs, the rest is lower level managers’ job. A half hour meeting monthly is than enough to check progress, while the NCs greenwashing is to be checked weekly or even daily in small groups.

Related: Where I could have used a Goal Tree but didn’t know about the tool then (including video)

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How lean are you? Part 5

The previous posts described approaches for Lean assessment and leanness measurement with their strengths and weaknesses. Yet for self-assessment or when trying to get a feeling about a supplier, such in-depth analyses are not necessary.

The next series of posts starting with this one deals with qualitative approaches of a Lean assessment.

Starting with top management

In his e-letter dating back to April 2004 and having this inspiring title: how lean are you? Dan Jones starts his answer like this: “not by looking over your shoulder at your competitors or by counting the number of Kaizen events you have run”.

That means, do not wait for benchmarking and don’t be fooled by misleading indicators.

Instead ask yourselves seven basic questions.” Those questions are about 7 topics:

  1. Customer satisfaction
  2. Throughput time and inventories
  3. Production and scheduling
  4. Office processes, overheads and direct costs
  5. Use of freed up time, equipment and space
  6. Management systems for a lean transformation
  7. Plans to deliver the next generation product with enhanced functionality at 30% lower costs than current product?

I strongly recommend to read this e-letter (and all others as well!)

These questions and topics are typically those a Lean-aware visitor or auditor may ask when visiting a supplier or a Lean consultant when first touring the gemba with top managers. These are also typical questions any top manager should ask himself when paying a visit to the shop floor.

Question #1 reminds that all should be about customer, questions #2 and #3 are about operations, questions #4 to 6 are about management and #7 is about the future.

These questions may not suffice for an assessment but give clues about Lean awareness and state of mind of the top management. They could be asked in form of why? what? and how?

Bottom-up lean initiatives are less likely to succeed than top-down, the latter having management’s full support and usually linked to strategic objectives. Therefore, starting an interview with the top most manager gives valuable information about maturity and readiness to support Lean transformation.

Failing to answer convincingly questions 1;4;5;6 and 7 is no good omen and in case of supplier qualification may end the process fast, with a nogo.

>Next post: How lean are you? Part 6

Creativity breaks loose from constraints with additive manufacturing


Author: Chris HOHMANN

New additive manufacturing technologies – let’s take 3D printing as symbol for them – are freeing designers from constraints that came with traditional manufacturing and the assembly methods.

Additive manufacturing means adding layer of material after layer instead of cutting out material from a bigger raw chunk, allowing the design of complex and odd shapes without having to care how to let cutting tools do it.

Hollow and curved shapes, spirals, double helixes, or even a Moebius band are no more problem to produce. Shapes that required sophisticated machining or expensive molds can now be 3D printed relatively fast and low cost.

With additive manufacturing, it is possible to 3D print a fully functional ball bearing directly in its place in a complex shaped part. This is also very important because it means there is no more need to source the ball bearing and design the part to receive it, which may ease the design, suppress several assembly steps and all the attachments.

Production is not only faster, it is cheaper because lots of intermediary steps are removed, including sourcing of parts and components.

Additive manufacturing speed itself may not be very fast, but has to be considered relatively to traditional manufacturing requiring to source and supply material and parts first, prior to manufacture and/or assembly. With most of material and parts coming from Asia, even if machining and assembly are fast, the shipment from supplier takes at least a month to arrive.

Faster, cheaper, less suppliers dependent and highly customizable, these promises of additive manufacturing offer opportunities not only to free designers from a lot of constraints but companies to settle their business next to their customers, amidst their markets.

This reduces furthermore logistic costs and delivery time, probably balancing the other (higher?) costs and allowing reshoring or nearshoring businesses.

It allows also new entrants to step into business without having to master all traditional manufacturing techniques or supply chain constraints.

On this topic read my >3D printing and Porter’s five forces post

What is true for manufacturing is true for after sales servicing. Spare parts or replacements can be printed on demand, long after a model have been discontinued. No need to store costly inventories of numerous references, just print them when needed, in the proper suitable version.

Additive manufacturing / 3D printing may revitalize industries in the US and Western Europe, which is good news!

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3D Printing and Porter’s five forces – opportunities

In a previous post on this topic I highlighted the threats of 3D printing – as symbol of any additive manufacturing technology – disrupting traditional businesses, wondering if threatened business owners and professionals are aware of it. In this post I’ll take the opposite point of view, as a challenger to established businesses, breaking the rules with the help of new manufacturing techniques.

With these new techniques and new printable materials, virtually anyone can become a manufacturer, almost overnight. Reconsidering Michael Porter’s five forces model for industry analysis and business strategy development from the point of view of a potential new entrant, the analysis could go like this:

Threat of new entrants


Author: Chris HOHMANN

The new entrant will threat established businesses by disrupting the way business is done, for instance the offer itself, the prices, customization and speed of delivery. Enter business is easy with new technologies breaking former barriers to entry. 3D printers are not very capital intensive assets.
As a reaction, threatened competitors can lobby to harden regulations and keep new entrants out or limited to niches, trying to raise new barriers. But this is more likely a local strategy as a global world-wide consensus to ban new tech or protect businesses is hard to imagine.
Once in business, the challenger will probably meet others having similar objectives and aggressive offerings. The challenger should therefore fear other new entrants. This leads us to intensity of competitive rivalry.

Intensity of competitive rivalry

New opportunities will probably attract many challengers, especially in dull economies, fuelling competitive rivalry.
Competitors in place may adapt and switch themselves to new technologies. In some cases, their former experience and/or customer base is a real advantage compared to new entrants.

On the other hand, established businesses may still use old capital intensive assets or equipment not yet free from amortization. In many cases this could be a (bad?) reason for them to stick to old ways.

Finally, customers themselves may enter the competition by manufacturing for themselves, turning into competitors of sorts. They may have personal 3D printers or go to a 3D print shop or the next fablab. Customers will probably not 3D print on large scale and setup a business, but doing themselves for family and friends they reduce sales opportunities. This threat should not be underestimated as a lot of small individual players can “capture” a significant market share.

Threat of substitute products or services

Additive manufacturing is relatively new. 3D printing in various materials may see further progress and innovation, allowing new applications, new products and services to emerge. At the actual pace of innovation, hard to say if it will go on or mature as it is. Would I be a challenger or an established business owner, I would keep active watching what may come anyway!

Bargaining power of customers (buyers)

Each time the offer exceeds the demand, the power goes to customers. With the relative ease to establish as a manufacturer, service provider, etc. the number of competitors should increase and their rivalry thus giving more choice, hence bargaining power to customers.

Bargaining power of suppliers

For equipment and raw material suppliers, the trend could go opposite: from few suppliers at the beginning, their number may increase. One can imagine the 3D printing following inkjet printing model: low cost or even free printers but relatively expensive (read profitable) material, just like ink cartridges (or some coffee capsules).

If the printing material becomes a convenience, the number of suppliers may decrease again because of limited profit. The last survivors will regain some power concentrating the supplies on fewer actors.

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How Lean are you? Part 4

This is the fourth post in the How Lean are you? series.

Measuring leanness

Author, Chris HOHMANN

In previous posts of this series I explained the advantage and necessity to assess leanness on two dimensions, one being primarily depicting how familiar with Lean tools and concepts people in the organization are, the second to measure tangible results: performance.

In part 2 we have seen that “awareness” is tricky when it means “knowledgeable”, as good Lean awareness can lead to no tangible outcome. To avoid this potential mismatching, I will refer from now to “maturity” which in my definition means familiarity not only by knowing but also using.

The matrix therefore looks like this:

The question is how to put a figure next to each dimension in order to plot the organization’s leanness?

Lean maturity

For assessing Lean maturity one way is to define what principles, methods and tools as well as activities routinely or at least frequently done would characterize a Lean organization?

Doing this for a European-wide study in the automotive industry, we defined no less than 21 items for this list, ranging from basic 5S to cyclical materials supplier in production (Milk run, water spider, etc.), from kaizen workshops to Value Stream Mapping or Visual Management and Poka-Yoke error proofing to production levelling (heijunka).

Each of these items had to be ticked in either categories: not implemented, pilot, halfway, extensively, completely, giving a grade on a five-levels scale.

The more items ticked in the category of widest coverage, the higher the maturity.

This way may not be perfect, in regard to frequency, consistency and so on. Furthermore, this being done via a questionnaire, the answers may of course be biased, but as explained in a previous post, the accurate benchmark the participants expected as feedback invited them to answer as faithfully as possible.

The final grade for Lean maturity has to be a single number, so the 21 grades were used to compute a Lean deployment index, what I refer to as maturity.

Lean performance

In order to appraise performance vs. Lean maturity, we selected 7 measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are common to any company and likely to be positively correlated to lean maturity: Raw material inventory, finished goods inventory, customer’s satisfaction, customers’ claim rate, OEE on bottleneck and pace of A product production (known as EPEI or Every Part Every Interval, which is a marker for production levelling).

As for maturity, the different items making Lean performance were used to compute a Value Stream Performance Index, which I refer to as “performance”.

Plotting onto the matrix

Now that each participating unit can provide data to compute a pair of coordinates, it’s easy to display them in the matrix.

The plots, about 150 of them, showed a nice scatter diagram with a positive linear correlation between maturity and performance, proving that the more lean-mature an organization is, the more performance it gets.

The beauty of this approach is that it is not sensitive to nature of activity or capital intensity, For instance, participants to this study had to be actors within automotive industry, but could be as dissimilar as OEMs, electric wire and harnesses provider, a tier two system maker or a stamping contractor as well as a plastic parts manufacturer. These activities use very different means, some of which extremely capital intensive, while others can operate with small facilities and simple equipment.

The indexes are common to any industrial company and therefore are welcome to compare very different companies.

About indexes

This approach has its biases. First of all it was designed for industry, so the metrics relate to manufacturing e.g. raw material inventories.

Another weakness is the dilution when computing the indexes, regardless how smart they’re calculated, they end up as some kind of averaging averages.

Yet, as every participant was assessed in the same way, the relative scores of all of them keep the result of great interest. As for any benchmarking, the most important is not to discuss the accuracy or reliability of the result but what can be done to improve the score.

>Next Post: how lean are you? part 5

3D Printing and Porter’s five forces

In a previous post on this topic I wondered about the pace of announcement of new amazing possibilities offered by 3D printing. I also wonder how the potential disruptions of 3D printing are ignored or underestimated.

With the new techniques and new printable materials, virtually anyone can become a manufacturer. While this is good news for revitalizing a declining industry, it can mean doomsday for those not paying attention.


Author: Chris HOHMANN

3D printing reminds me Porter’s five forces model for industry analysis and business strategy development. In this model, Michael Porter had outlined five forces that determine the competitive intensity within a market:

  • Threat of new entrants
  • Threat of substitute products or services
  • Bargaining power of customers (buyers)
  • Intensity of competitive rivalry
  • Bargaining power of suppliers

From my point of view, 3D printing is all five at once, threatening existing businesses and trades and bringing new opportunities to many actors, to enter or transform existing businesses and trades.

>Lisez-moi en français

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Threat of new entrants

Virtually anyone equipped with 3D printer can establish him/herself as manufacturer. This may not bother established manufacturers at first glance, as these new “competitors” may be geeks or techno lovers giving a try on some new toy.

Yes but if 3D printing comes cheap and easy as it seem to come, many households may become small manufacturers for themselves for some parts or products. And if the number of households becomes significant, it means significant amount of turnover swaps from buying finished parts or products to buying 3D printers and raw printing material, users generating added value themselves, at will.

What can happen with households, geeks and techno lover can happen with anybody: investors sensing opportunities, companies eager to diversify, entrepreneurs…

This is not only about producing small widgets, plastic ornaments or cartoon figurines, as I mentioned in my previous post, it could/does threat prosthetics, dentists, podologists and also many other businesses and trades like spare parts for aftermarket, construction, etc.

New companies establishing as manufacturers can operate close to their customers, further improving responsiveness and delivering short term. The advantages of customization, delivery speed and other cost savings could question the large manufacturing facilities abroad, especially when local labor cost rise quickly and logistic routes remain extended, hence delivery speed slow and responsiveness poor.

Threat of substitute products or services

3D printed insoles, dentures and braces already exist, even 3D printed firearms exist as substitutes for the traditional ones, which is not only a threat for gunsmiths by the way.

Some of these new products come with better characteristics (3D printed insoles are allegedly washable, printable in many shapes and color and anti–microbial for instance), many times cheaper and faster.

Furthermore, customers will be/are able to modify the original model to fit their taste or specific needs and print them at will, without holding costly inventories of finished goods.

Services like designing, customizing products or fast delivery simply disappear as taken over by customers themselves.

Crowdsourcing and hacking are other kinds of substitution for R&D, development, engineering, design!

If you take time to consider differences between traditional subtractive manufacturing and 3D printing / additive manufacturing, you’ll see who is potentially threatened: mold makers, machine-tool makers, tool vendors, subcontractors, distributors and more.

Distributors, instead of providing stocking, cross docking, commissioning and shipping could turn on-demand manufacturers, shifting their risky business to a safer and higher adding-value one. Yesterday’s customers becoming new competitors.

The ability to manufacture replacement parts on demand using 3-D printers could transform the economics of aftermarket service and the structure of industries. Relatively small facilities with on-site additivemanufacturing capabilities could replace large regional warehouses. The supply of service parts might even be outsourced: small fabricators (or fabs) located, for example, at airports, hospitals, or major manufacturing venues could make these parts for much of the equipment used on site, with data supplied directly by the manufacturers.

Source: 3-D printing takes shape, McKinsey

Bargaining power of customers (buyers)

Customers will gain tremendous power, as well B2B customers as B2C customers, being able to manufacture by themselves or to source parts and products, even services, among new competitors.

What leads us to intensity of competitive rivalry, turbocharged by new entrants, innovations and all kinds of disruptions.

Bargaining power of suppliers

Bargaining power of (surviving) suppliers will also increase as does the position of the last survivors in declining markets. Fewer suppliers means greater power for themselves. This will be true for businesses and trades having 3D printable or additive manufacturing viable substitutes.

It will also be the case for the new manufacturing techniques equipment, specific software and specific material vendors, mastering their inherent properties and/or difficulties.

Initially, these new competitors will be niche players, operating where consumers are willing to pay a premium for a bespoke design, complex geometry, or rapid delivery. Over the longer term, however, they could transform industries in unexpected ways, moving the source of competitive advantage away from the ability to manufacture in high volumes at low-cost and toward other areas of the value chain, such as design or even the ownership of customer networks.

Source: 3-D printing takes shape, McKinsey

Amazon launches new 3D Printers & Supplies section

There is no way to stop 3D printer’s home invasion. Though Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos believes 3D printing will not change the distribution of products anytime soon, the company sees also the explosive growth of 3D printing. Amazon decided to seriously involve in the 3D printing market by launching a new section for 3D Printers & Supplies under Industrial & Scientific > Additive Manufacturing Products category.


Amazon launches pilot program selling 3D printed items

“When it was announced that Amazon would begin selling 3D printers and supplies last summer, the industry heralded it as a defining moment, a clear indication that 3D printing was going mainstream,” says Hauer. “We think the decision to sell 3D printed products sends an even bigger message. Consumer products are the next frontier.”



>Next: 3D printing and Porter’s forces – opportunities

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How lean can help shaping the future? Introduction

Lean, no doubt, is a powerful proven business management system with long track record of success stories (and probably as many failed attempts).

In 60 years, Lean made it slowly from Lean Manufacturing to Lean Thinking and Lean Management, from small improvement experiments in industrial workshops to worldwide shared Body of Knowledge.

Despite all the experience gathered and shared, the numerous good books, papers, testimonies or seminars, the application of Lean concepts is still as it was in its early days. Most of those starting Lean initiatives seek cost savings and/or performance improvement and still consider Lean as a well-furnished toolbox. They try to fix broken and poorly designed processes, bailing water faster rather than fixing the leaks.


Author Chris HOHMANN

Sadly, Lean seldom made it into management age, but keep stuck in the tool age as Jim Womack would put it, being “used” as it was in its early days, or as Mike Rother expresses it: “Lean seems stuck in the 20th Century, for instance focused almost exclusively on efficiency, and that there is a 21st-Century Lean that encompasses a wider range of human endeavor.“

It seems to me that most organizations using Lean run backwards into their future – which is risky and suboptimal enough – and do not anticipate the disruptions that lay ahead.

Innovations in technologies, societal changes and stiffer regulations for example will lead us into a near future where past experience will be only a limited help.

I think about machines able to learn from their own experience, processes able to configure and adjust themselves dynamically to respond to customers’ demands, power plants going into safe mode long before human supervisors would notice any problems, far better sales forecasts, ever smaller production batches and new ways to manufacture, using 3D printing for example.

Factories of the future will have to blend into residential areas, because of lack of space or simply because employees long commuting time is huge waste of time and energy. These factories must be energy efficient, limit all their pollution (noise, fumes, scrap…) and may be mobile device-controlled by only a handful of highly skilled personnel, few workers sharing their job with collaborative robots (cobots).

Science fiction? Not at all, no more. Search the Web for terms like “smart factories” or “industry 4.0” to get a glimpse into the future.

This brings (at least) two questions about Lean:

  1. Will lean survive the fourth industrial revolution? a topic I discuss in >this post<
  2. How Lean can help shaping the future?

This post is an introduction to a prospective thinking about these topics


Feel free to share your thoughts and comments!