Lean production or, lean manufacturing is an approach to management that focuses on cutting out waste while ensuring production of high-quality end-products.
This approach is implemented on all aspects of manufacturing in the automotive industry – from design, through production to distribution.
In essence, lean production is a system, or a tool practiced by industry practitioners to cut costs by making the production line more efficient and responsive to market needs.
This approach mainly deals with minimising effort that do not add value to the production process, such as unnecessary movement of people and product around the production line.
The thing is, lean production has been implemented since the 20th century (before being identified as “Lean Production” by Toyota in the 1990s).
Now, with the advent of a new paradigm, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0), how will they complement each other? Let’s take a look.
A Common Goal
Both lean production and IR 4.0 are implemented to achieve operational excellence. Several lean applications such as Karakuri (simple automation) and Andon (visual feedback system) aids manufacturers to achieve the goal.
Above all, lean production is viewed as a work culture, a mindset that is instilled in industry workers.
With IR 4.0, new opportunities and tools emerges to enhance the path towards operational excellence.
One example of this application would be real-time data optimization. Prior the era of technology, workers who manages the stock (such as raw materials) will have to manually ensure that the data from both parties (stock manager and operators) are consistent.
Due to human error, miscount of stocks and miscommunication between staffs occur occasionally.
However, with the availability of real-time data optimization, human error can be reduced through the collection of data regarding stocks and various other operational issues that can be updated and managed in real-time using an online platform, which provides higher accessibility.
Lean manufacturing also emphasizes on the importance of equipment maintenance through preventative maintenance.
This system enables manufacturers to implement scheduled servicing amongst various other methods to avoid unplanned equipment downtime.
With IR 4.0, preventative maintenance is further enhanced through the machine’s advanced algorithms and ability to self-learn and identify potential breakdown issues before they occur.
Similar to the previous point, the vast amounts of data collected by sensors located on the machine to identify the potential for breakdowns before they occur can also be uploaded on an online platform to enable easy access for operators, making it even easier to source out potential problems.
One of the ways used by manufacturers to save cost while promoting production flexibility is to use one production line to make multiple products.
This is achieved by implementing lean production tools such as single-minute die exchange.
With the availability of IR 4.0 technologies, changeovers are even more effective. New sensors and software enable machines to automatically identify different products and load the appropriate programs/tools without the need of human intervention.
Since the changeover is automated, operators can focus on performing other value-adding activities.
For example, manufacturers can implement a tracking system that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on individual work pieces to classify each product.
Then, assembly stations can use the system to identify the product that will be produced next. This step will allow assembly stations to set their tools to the right parameters automatically. With no operator intervention, the production line can change over instantly and efficiently.
Continuous development of technology will not only add benefits to the automotive industry, but it can also complement existing manufacturing philosophies and techniques that will allow the production of vehicles and its components to be more efficient.
With the implementation of advanced technologies such as real-time data optimization and automation, the process of manufacturing will experience lesser downtime, higher production value and much lesser waste.