How lean can help shaping the future ? Lean engineering

Before searching about new high-tech disruptive innovation* let us reflect how lean thinking and lean tools were used so far.

*read my ‘Technologies alone will not regain competitive advantage‘ post

Every time an organization was exposed to lean concepts, those were used to improve the actual situation, resulting from decisions, practices and behaviors prior to lean introduction. Improvements were numerous and impressive enough to accumulate success stories and prove the power of lean.

Yet many improvements were limited and many impossible to Cary out, letting improvement efforts lingering in the low hanging fruits zone.

The reasons are decisions and options taken in early design phases, which engaged the organization for longer periods. Many conversion costs from actual situation to improved one would be too high and won’t pay off.

Many factories in Europe are located in centennial buildings with layouts having to cope with architectural constraints. Machines and equipment were packed in the available space, sometimes spread over several floors and over different buildings.

  • Even more recent factories I’ve helped to improve we’re located in remote places, in former backyard of founder’s home, in mountain village, in the midst of the Black Forest…
  • One of the biggest French company’s headquarter is located in a very old former convent.
  • Hospitals have similar backgrounds, layouts too often are nightmare to everyone, from visitors, patients, to staff and logistics.

All those locations may be lovely places but most of them are unfit for seamless flows and efficient work. Despite this, many of those locations will be kept for number of reasons good or bad, and will continue to hinder significant improvements.

Greenfield recent factories are generally build with lean concepts and future efficiency in mind, giving them a tremendous competitive advantage over the elder non-lean designed facilities.

Brownfield companies may pay great efforts improving their operations, it will usually not suffice to catch-up with the greenfield competitor.

Henceforth, greenfields are usually smartly located in the heart of the market they serve and hired lean aware workforce and/or trained it intensively, without facing the resistance to change nor lean learning curve.

Process and product improvement face similar problems: many decisions and options taken in early design phases constrain their design and evolution for long periods, sometimes during their entire lifetime.

Problems that drive workers crazy or require extra work, poor ergonomics and quality issues just remain because conversion costs would not pay off. Think about a mold or die modification, shape redesign, material change with all qualification process to go through again, etc.

What is left to improve is fetching the tool to correct a defect faster instead of preventing the defect.

So how can Lean help shaping the future?

Lean engineering in one way. My understanding of Lean engineering is using lean concepts, methods and tools to both improve engineering performance AND embed lean into designed products and processes to ensure future efficiency in manufacturing, delivery, servicing, etc.

While the first part – improving engineering performance – strives to reduce the time-to-market and design and engineering costs, the second part strives to put latter phases like manufacturing in best possible conditions to be efficient.

Therefore, all painfully lessons learned in manufacturing should be taken into account for the next design, frontloading issues to be solved and problems to be prevented. In the early design phases, lean thinking should help to design and build-in future sustainable performance. Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA) is one way.

While many designers may claim doing it, in reality they face great pressure to design-to-cost and speed-up to deliver products fast. Design-to-cost is usually flawed because it ignores the cost of later problem solving, error correction, scrap, rework, inefficiency and so on.

Problem solving and preventing is often ignored for the sake of design and engineering local objectives. But remember, those without memory are committed to repeat the same mistakes.

> More about How Lean can help shaping the future

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