How modern technology is enabling a better approach to lean in todays volatile market

January 4 2022

Amidst lingering supply-chain shocks, have Lean methods left manufacturers more vulnerable? Has a just-in-time mentality led to too little stock to weather demand spikes? Have firms developed an over-dependence on distant suppliers?

These are reasonable questions to ask, and manufacturers are adjusting. They are increasing safety stock on hand, for example, and developing sources of materials closer to home. But the most successful are embracing Industry 4.0 technologies like robotics, cloud computing, AI/machine learning, and the Internet of Things to drive true agility across their operations.

That ability to respond to unpredictable circumstances, also known as resilience, is at the heart of the Lean philosophy.  Manufacturers must embrace Industry 4.0 technology to bring the Lean philosophy forward to sustain them against supply shocks and mitigate uncertainty.

The philosophy that eventually came to be known as Lean manufacturing began to flower in the 1930s and 40s with the development of the Toyota Production System.

In post-World War II Japan, manufacturers needed a system that was flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. Eliminating waste and inconsistency was critical. Part of the answer was smaller factories, where only the materials that were needed for current work were kept on hand. Keeping inventory levels low and quickly turning around resources kept production moving.

Eventually branded as Lean Manufacturing in the late 80s and 90s, these ideas gradually spread. In their 1996 book “Lean Thinking,” James Womack and Daniel Jones defined Lean as "a way to do more with less and less" and identified five key principles:

About Sean Sennott

Sean Sennott is a Lead Solutions Architect with 12 years’ experience with Dynamics AX 2012/D365. He has implemented Microsoft Solutions for many multi-national companies in manufacturing, sales and distribution.

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