Lean and the digital factory: is the digital twin the new gemba?

The digital twin is the virtual and digital copy of a factory allowing monitoring, post-mortem analyses, simulations, stress tests, machine learning and much more.

As a Lean practitioner having started his Lean experience in the 1980s, I faced the difficulty to get engineers, techs and sometimes foremen to the shopfloor to assess and understand the situation, and support the operators.

The author (left) at Yamaha's headquarter in Hamamastu, Japan

The author (left) at Yamaha’s headquarter in Hamamastu, Japan

With the growing ability of the digital twin to get closer to the physical reality, my prospective question is: can the digital twin become the new gemba?

Not familiar with digital twin? Checkout: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_twin

Is the digital twin the new gemba?

My first answer would be no, for 2 reasons :

  1. The digital twin dies not correspond to the definition of gemba
  2. The digital twin is like Magritte’s pipe : a representation but not the real thing

Gemba?

“Gemba” (Japanese word) was long translated into the “real place” or “where it happens”, in Lean parlance where value is (supposed to be) created. This emphasis on the reality is a warning against the spreadsheet analyses or the tendency to trust blindly data.

Until recently, data taking was mostly manual and tedious, thus limited, and error prone. Trusting data meant taking chances by trusting a limited set of data to draw conclusions and/or being misled during analysis because of all the limitations and errors.

Compared to data analysis, going to the gemba and perceive the situation by oneself always gives a way better understanding and appreciation of what happened or is going on. The human body with its natural sensors can grasp more of the reality than the best and most accurate description.

Intuition can work better in this environment as more senses are stimulated. Links are established between distinct phenomenons or events, something that an analyst may not perceive when working only on a dataset.

This doesn’t mean that data are useless, simply they may not be used exclusively in order to widen the scope of the investigations and analyses.

The digital twin

Now what is a digital twin? A really big collection of data that allows to simulate the real-world twin,with growing fidelity and getting closer to reality. But it is still data however their amount, and not the real place.

On the one hand immersing oneself into the virtual reality may allow exploring it in ways that are impossible in real world. The digital simulation can take an analyst virtually into a working machine and show the dynamics of the various components. Digital monitoring can even capture what the human sensors are unable to, thus ”augmenting” humans.

But on the other hand the sensors collecting data, however performant, capture only a limited reality. For the time being and as far as I know there is no smell in the digital twin, no sound like the squeaking or screeching, and heat can be measured but is not “played back” as heat in simulation, or is it?

There is no life in the digital twin, no unexpected insects, birds or rodents causing unforeseen problems. Vibrations can be measured and simulated, but is it as subtle as real vibrations and trepidations? Air flow will only exist in the digital twin if sensors or the digital model was designed to measure or simulate it. And the leaking roof problem may not exist in the digital model. Such examples are still countless.

In short, virtual reality may be closer to reality now than ever before, but still isn’t reality. And if it is not reality, it is not gemba.

Magritte’s pipe

Magritte’s painting of a pipe is a pretty realistic picture of this smoking accessory, with the caption “this is not a pipe”. Many of those recognizing a pipe would think of course this is a pipe! but the painter wanted to remind viewers that the pipe is only the picture of a pipe, not a real pipe.  So is the digital twin. A pretty good representation of reality but not the reality.

The digital twin could become the gemba of the future

Now, in order for the digital twin to be considered the new gemba, it suffice to change the definition and get consensus about it in the (lean) community.

If a majority of people and lean practitioners consider the digital twin worth to be considered as gemba, or the actual definition of gemba being altered to encompass the digital twin, so be it.

I would not support this idea for the sake of clarity though. Think about the word “kanban” that for decades described a pull system in manufacturing and supply. Then the IT community adopted Lean principles and came up with its own version of kanban. It is built upon the same principles, describes a pull system, but is different enough to generate some misunderstandings.

Your thoughts?

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

Advertisements

What is a logical “long arrow”?

In Logical Thinking Process (LTP) parlance a long arrow is a “leap of logic” or the omission of one or several cause-and-effect steps that connect a cause to an effect.

In the Logical Thinking Process, a cause is linked to its effect by an arrow. The arrow’s tail is connected to the cause and the tip points to the effect. Hence the reference to the arrow.

In the picture, the cause is at the bottom and the effect is on the top.

Ellipses are logical “AND” connectors. Arrows going through an ellipse read “if…. AND if… then…”

Some may refer to the AND connectors as “bananas” but I would not encourage this.

The “long arrow” skips several “if…then…” or cause-and-effect relationships, also considered as logical steps.

Leaps of logic are to be avoided for the sake of logical soundness. Long arrows are likely to confuse an audience as the listeners or readers cannot naturally link the things together.

True listeners may have difficulties to follow the speaker’s logic or readers might get confused, lost or perplexed while reading a text.

Many people speak or write long arrows because the sequence of causes-and-effects is clear in their mind. They don’t pay enough attention how their thinking can be received by someone not knowing about the subject, the unspoken assumptions or the implicit and skipped relationships.

The more logical steps or cause-and-effect links skipped between a specific cause and an certain effect and the longer the arrow.

In the scrutinization process of logic trees, long arrows are generally considered as “mistakes” or at least “logical improvement points”. Long arrows are not officially considered as Categories of Legitimate Reservations (CLR), but could in fact. Long arrows should be broken into more detailed steps in order to get the faulty tree more sound and robust from the Logical Thinking Process point of view.

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

The tablet syndrom

This post is not about drugs nor pharmaceutical industry, the mentioned tablet is the electronic one, you know, the bigger version of a smartphone.

The tablet syndrom is about the tablet as a symbol for being trendy, going digital, sometimes even believing to lead a digital transformation when handing out a load of these devices.

I happen to visit a broadcasting and publishing company and while waiting for my contact to pick me up, was invited to wait in the visitors’ waiting room.

The first thing I got to see was a tiny room next to the waiting room and separated by a glass partition. In full view of every visitor was the mess in this room, obviously collecting parcels coming in or shipped out among other stuff.

Next was a collection of sofas and room dividers in an arrangement looking more like stranded by a kind of tsunami than a practical one to accommodate waiting guests. To reinforce the impression of a past catastrophe were some armchairs upside-down as well as a short table tipped over.

The storm must have swept out the water fountain because nothing alike was to be found in the room nor in the entrance.

It is obviously a cultural trait of the media companies to have messy and cluttered offices. I think most of the worst clutter piled behind office windows are in media companies buildings. They never heard anything about 5S I assume, and if they did, had probably dismissed the idea of tidiness as “vulgar”.

What was available in abundance in this visitors unfriendly place were the latest issues of the magazines this company was publishing, as well as a collection of huge tablets on the wall, displaying their digital versions.

The tablets were functional, meaning reactive to my finger sweeping.

This is a kind of tablet syndrom I thought. Nothing is really fit for purpose in this room, supposed to provide a nice and convenient place to wait, but the tablets were there, plenty of them.

It reminded me some factories, messy and having poor performance, but the management proudly show you the latest tablets with all KPIs displayed in fancy colors.

Hanging plenty of huge tablets on the wall did not much to improve the waiting room, just as displaying lousy KPIs on a shopfloor tablet does nothing to improve performance. At best, it may distract the visitors’ attention from what is really important. The irony is that in most cases it also blinds managers from the reality of the situation…

That’s what I mean by tablet syndrom.

Comments welcome.

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

Holidays, flow and common sense

This article is an afterthought of what I have seen the previous week during a nice holiday abroad, an so many times before.

It is a rather common experience. We booked a one week vacation in a nice sunny place, with palm trees and a hotel that seems to match our requirements. We choose half board and to have our dinners in the hotel’s restaurant.

As so often, the courses are offered as buffets: starters, main course, dessert and cheese and fruits. I assume buffets are a convenient way for the staff to accommodate many customers showing up in unpredictable waves as well as giving them the feeling of unrestricted access to all food they like.

Now the various dishes on the buffets are arranged like so often machines in a factory: similar close to each others yet placed where some place is found. And most important, without much consideration for flow.

In our case, guests are visiting the buffets from any end, jamming and almost colliding in the narrow alleyway with their hauls, while hesitant people just stay pondering their next possible choice in the middle of it.

The hot dishes buffet is set behind a huge pillar, providing more opportunities for guests collisions, as those coming around one pillar’s corner can’t see the human traffic that will emerge in front of them, and conversely.

The dessert buffet was maybe the worst, because it was set in a one-way, dead-end kind of corridor.

Sounds stupid, not efficient? I do think so.

Now, did any of the numerous managers of this place think about efficient, seamless customers’ flow? Probably not much. Disappointing as so often, as I thought restaurant and hotel professionals should be experts on how to organize a buffet. And not only from the nice looking perspective. Over time I gave up with this assumption that showed false so often.

Who said common sense is common?

Now to be fair, if I conducted a survey with the customers in those restaurants, I would probably have very few analyzing the situation as I do. My guess is that most of the guests accommodate themselves to the traffic and layout and focus on the display of food instead. What would they answer as to their user experience? Food was great / good / plenty / fresh / refilled…

Well this is the trouble being a consultant making a living with operational excellence, you just can’t switch completely off during holidays.

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn