Lean Article

Andrew Peterson’s picture

By: Andrew Peterson

Collaborative robots are increasingly attractive to manufacturers that require flexible solutions for their growing product mix but may not have the scale of work or capital resources needed to justify larger investments in automation systems.

These collaborative robots, commonly referred to as “cobots,” can execute tasks with minimal programming and adapt to variations in part position and size. Humans work side by side with cobots to reduce the need for custom fixturing that can make high-mix, low-volume (HMLV) work inefficient. Cobots can also go to where the work is on the shop floor.

The Purdue Manufacturing Extension Partnership has identified manufacturers that have a lot to gain from cobot adoption. Investing in collaborative robots may make the most sense for:
• Manufacturers from 50 to 500 employees with a family product mix
• Owners who are looking for a fast payback period on capital investments (e.g., six months)
• Managers who can’t fill shifts but can redeploy employees to more value-added positions
• Operators with repetitive or dangerous jobs

Farhana Ahmad’s picture

By: Farhana Ahmad

Despite juggling competing priorities, building resilient systems and processes within their organizations continues to be top of mind for business leaders today and is anticipated to be so for the foreseeable future. As such, the first logical step is to turn to existing methods and approaches that have been proven to be effective—of these, lean is a strong contender.

Starting from the beginning: the definition of lean

Defined as “a way of providing maximum customer value while minimizing effort, equipment, time, and waste in the production system,” lean is based on five principles:
• Value is defined according to the customer’s perception of it.
• Organizations must map the entire value stream and eliminate anything that doesn’t contribute to customer value.
• Products and services must flow smoothly to the customer with no interruptions.
• Customer requirements pull value upstream along the process.
• Perfection with no waste is the goal of the production system.

From an applicability perspective, the business process most commonly linked to lean is that of waste reduction, which is summarized into eight key types. This includes everything from motion to overproduction to underutilized talent.

Lolly Daskal’s picture

By: Lolly Daskal

In a recent survey, only 3 percent said they have confidence in corporate executives.

The news was equally dismal for others: 3 percent reported having confidence in government officials, 5 percent in reporters and journalists, 8 percent in small business owners, and only 11 percent in ministers and clergy.

These results show, among other things, how hard it can be to find the leader who can be credible, courageous, trustworthy, ethical, and transparent.

But we all know great leadership is possible—because we ourselves want it.

Here are some basic ways we can be the example of what it looks like.

1. Do what you say you will do. Too many leaders just do whatever they can get away with. Be credible.

2. Do what’s right, not what’s easy. This one can be hard; doing what is right is rarely easy. And many times leaders choose the wrong path. Be courageous.

3. Take responsibility for your actions. Stop making excuses for your decisions and rationalizing your choices. The more excuses they hear from you, the less people will trust you. Be trustworthy.

Multiple Authors
By: Bill Bernstein, Teodar Vernica

Step into the factory of the future. Alicia, an operations manager, sits at her workstation viewing a digitally enhanced video feed of the facility, using cameras installed in strategic locations. Wearing safety gear, a maintenance engineer named Bob checks his tablet for the next machine to fix. Equipped with a headset and controllers, Dave, a software engineer at HQ, serves as a virtual tour guide for Carrie, the company’s lead executive. Wearing an augmented reality (AR) headset, Carrie surveys her machines as she walks through the facility. With Dave’s guidance, she sees digital information, such as a machine’s status, appearing in her view.

Each able to experience a virtual overlay onto a physical environment that provides more context relevant for their jobs, these co-workers can realize their potential as a team through industrial extended reality (XR), an umbrella term that encompasses a spectrum of technologies, from partially immersive AR to completely immersive virtual reality.

This factory might be hard to imagine, but each technology already exists. What’s missing are standard formats, protocols, and guidelines for them to work seamlessly with one another. In other words, the communication channels among these technologies remain shut.

Ted Theyerl’s picture

By: Ted Theyerl

‘Forward!” It’s the state motto of Wisconsin, where I work to help manufacturing companies improve their operations and processes. It’s one simple word that holds a lot of meaning and relevance. It’s what I want companies I work with to embrace, practice, and execute. Forward is a word that helps summarize an entire scope of improvement practices, and it’s a word that has become even more relevant in these times of uncertainty. This motto and mindset can help your company serve everyone—your owners, employees, and customers—even better in the future. Forward!

When the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic hit hard in mid-March 2020, the entire business and economic landscape shifted, almost instantly. Manufacturing companies had no option but to adapt rapidly to change or suffer the consequences—which could be immediate or long lasting.

How well did you do? If you adjusted quickly and smoothly, that’s a good sign you have solid improvement practices in place. If it was a struggle or worse, a threat to your business, that is a signal you need to get better at getting better—rapidly. How can you improve your ability to adapt rapidly?

Ken Voytek’s picture

By: Ken Voytek

I’ve made it my personal crusade to keep a focus on the fundamental importance of productivity to manufacturers, to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and to the MEP centers that do the daily work of helping small manufacturers boost their performance. It may seem strange to consider productivity right now, given the current environment, but it remains important to both national economic and business success. Indeed, productivity will be even more critical as we recover from the current health and economic crisis.

Currently, there is significant excess capacity of both capital and labor that we can reengage to help the economy grow faster and return to full employment and capacity utilization of plants. In his 2004 book, The Power of Productivity (University of Chicago Press, 2005), William Lewis argues that the real solution is not necessarily more capital or working smarter (although these things certainly help), but rather how a company organizes and deploys its capital and labor.

Wendy Stanley’s picture

By: Wendy Stanley

Today’s manufacturers have plenty of software solution options that are meant to enhance their productivity. You may be familiar with each of these software packages. However, if you are not, it is important to understand what each of these software packages are designed to deliver.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP): ERP systems help you to focus on the business aspects of your manufacturing processes. This includes things like supply and demand, scheduling, actual costs, accounting, and more. In essence, ERP tracks the execution of the business aspects of manufacturing. But while an ERP system offers high-level tracking of many business operations, it may have gaps in specific functionality. These gaps are often filled by additional software like PLM, MES, or QMS.

Production life-cycle management (PLM): The PLM system was developed to help track processes and product innovation. As such, it focuses on design, development, and production planning. In other words, PLM focuses on the innovation of your product line.

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest’s picture

By: Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Blame it on Moore’s law. We live in a digital Pangaea, a world of borderless data driven by technology, and the speed and density with which data can be transmitted and handled. It’s a world in which data-driven decisions cause daily fluctuations in markets and supply chains. Data come at us so fast that there is almost no way business leaders can keep abreast of changing supply chains and customer preferences, not to mention react to them.

Operating any kind of manufacturing today requires agility and the means to turn the flood of largely meaningless ones and zeros into something useful. The old ways of treating data as nothing more than digital paper won’t cut it in the “new normal.” We need to reimagine how we view quality.

Ryan E. Day’s picture

By: Ryan E. Day

It’s no secret that manufacturing companies operate in an inherently unstable environment. Every operational weakness poses a risk to efficiency, quality, and ultimately, to profitability. All too often, it takes a crisis—like Covid-19 shutdowns—to reveal operational weaknesses that have been hampering an organization for a long time.

The nature of the problem

It is not just a manufacturing company’s production facility that faces operational challenges, either. The entire organization must address a host of risks and challenges; shifting consumer and market trends necessitate improving agility and responsiveness; dynamic and global competition force innovation not only in product development, but also service and delivery; evolving sales channels, including online outlets, challenge established profit margins. And these challenges are not going away any time soon.

The real problem, however, lies not with the challenges themselves but with a company’s reluctance to see the operational weakness that makes it susceptible to a particular risk in the first place.

Mary Rowzee’s picture

By: Mary Rowzee

During the first six months after the publication of its first edition in June 2019, the AIAG & VDA FMEA Handbook gained popularity in the global automotive industry. Both U.S. and European OEMs have started to require the AIAG VDA approach to failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) in their programs. Like the AIAG Guidebook, fourth edition, the handbook provides guidance, instruction, and illustrative examples of the requisite analytical techniques. The activities and analyses historically involved in FMEA have been formalized as discrete steps in the handbook.

 The seven-step approach described in the handbook and outlined here guides the development of design, process, and supplemental monitoring and system response of FMEA through the sequencing (and the iteration) of described activities.

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