When Industry 4.0 arrived with all its bells and whistles, many would have thought “haha, this is the long awaited next big thing to replace Lean”. Now, as the time goes by, it seems more and more that Lean is regarded as a mandatory prerequisite to Industry 4.0, which in return could unexpectedly extend Lean’s lifespan!
Early on, promoters of Industry 4.0 warned about the necessary prerequisites prior to go for the fourth Industrial Revolution and reaping its full benefits. Very soon readiness assessments where proposed, embedding questions about leanness and efficiency.
People my age remember well when computing was getting big and more computers arrived into the companies, the popular saying then went “Garbage in, garbage out.” It was a cynical conclusion when computerizing failed or a blunt warning when not preparing data, information and processes before turning them into any IT system.
Recently it is Bill Gates’ quote putting it more politely that is popular and frequently cited: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
With the repeated warnings about a certain degree of leanness required before going for the Digital Transformation or the 4th Industrial Revolution, Lean is becoming nothing less than a requirement, and this will probably extend it’s lifespan in an unexpected manner, at least for the ones expecting the next big thing, after Lean.
It does not even mean that Lean has to be ditched once robots, cyber-physical systems or artificial intelligence has been installed. I am myself convinced that all these new technologies will be (already are?) available to almost every competitor, but the only way to outperform one’s challengers is the better use of the assets and leaner processes and infrastructures.