Lean and Industry 4.0 are both production paradigms with a common objective: manufacture efficiently in small batches highly customized products. Paramount being producing totally customized unique products at mass-production costs thanks to dramatically increased efficiency and flexibility.
Prerequisite, enhancer or companions?
At this early stage of Lean 4.0 three main assumptions guide the studies around this next level of Lean:
- Lean is a prerequisite to Industry 4.0
- Industry 4.0 is a prerequisite to Lean 4.0
- Both Lean and Industry 4.0 combine and this combination leads to Lean 4.0.
1. Lean as prerequisite to Industry 4.0
This assumption is based on a widely agreed opinion that messy inefficient processes should not be automated, otherwise the result will only be magnifying the inefficiency. However appealing the technology, focus must remain of customer satisfaction, waste avoidance, process simplicity and efficiency.
This calls for a Lean implementation ahead of Industry 4.0’s in order to optimize and orient the investment in technology towards future enhanced and sustained efficiency.
2. Industry 4.0 as prerequisite to Lean 4.0
This assumption states that current Lean implementations face limitations with regards to process flexibility and complexity management. That is the more complex products and processes, with ever-growing levels of customization and reduced repetition (small batches down to unique products).
Industry 4.0 by itself can improve flexibility and complexity management but can also break the limitations of Lean and open new fields and opportunities of application. This next level of Lean is then called Lean 4.0 and Industry 4.0 technologies are the prerequisite to enable it.
3. Lean and Industry 4.0 combine into Lean 4.0
This third assumption kind of merges the first two and states that Lean and Industry 4.0 complement and support each other. They can coexist and iteratively free new opportunities for the other to apply.
One example maybe additive manufacturing (a broader application of 3D printing), considered as an Industry 4.0 technology that removes a lot of wastes compared to traditional machining, i.e. adding just needed material instead of cutting away a lot of unnecessary material. Additive manufacturing opens new opportunities to efficiently manufacture complex parts but still requires some setups, adjustments and suitable ‘Lean’ environment to deliver its promises.
As mentioned previously, Industry 4.0 can bring a lot of improvements by itself, all other things being equal, but without the synergy through the combination of Lean, the full benefits will not be reaped. The combination of Lean and Industry 4.0 is then called Lean 4.0.
Note that what is described in this post as Lean 4.0 is also referred to as ‘Lean Automation’, Smart Lean or ‘Lean Industry 4.0’. In these early months of 2019 (publication of this post: Feb. 2019), the concept is still new and the commonly accepted name is not clear now. Lean 4.0 seems to be mainly used in Europe and to no surprise mainly in Germany, the birthplace of Industry 4.0.
Only rebranding good old Lean Manufacturing?
Skeptics and critical thinkers (I count myself to the latter) may argue that Lean 4.0 is nothing more than a rebranding of good old Lean Manufacturing, and new opportunity to sell refurbished Lean Manufacturing training and consulting in the hype of Industry 4.0. Mobile apps and fancy softwares on top of it.
This interesting counterpoint will be discussed in another post, yet the position of this post is not about a ‘fake Lean 4.0’ but the reasonable assumption(s) that Lean will be brought to another level by the unstoppable wave of technologies and digitalization.