Tag Archives: Lean Manufacturing

A Lean revenge against mass production from ”The Economist” point of view. Part III

“… Only in the 1970s, after the first oil shock, did faults start to become visible. The finned and chromed V8-powered monsters beloved of Americans were replaced by dumpy, front-wheel-drive boxes designed to meet new rules (known as CAFE standards) limiting the average fuel economy of carmakers fleets and to compete with Japanese imports. As well as being dull to look at, the new cars were less reliable than equivalent Japanese models.

By the early 1980s it had begun to dawn on GM that the Japanese could not only make better cars but also do so far more efficiently. A joint venture with Toyota to manufacture cars in California was an eye-opener. It convinced GM’s management that “lean” manufacturing was of the highest importance. Unfortunately, that meant still less attention being paid to the quality of the cars GM was turning out. Most were indistinguishable, badge-engineered non-entities. As the appeal of its products sank, so did the prices GM could ask. New ways had to be found to cut costs further, making the cars still less attractive to buyers….”

Briefing. The bankruptcy of General Motors. A giant falls. The Economist. June 6th-12th 2009. Pp 58-60. Ed. The Economist Newspaper Ltd.

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Posted by on June 8, 2009 in Lean Manufacturing


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A Lean revenge against mass production from ”The Economist” point of view. Part II

”…The foundation of blue-collar America have all crumbled. Global competition, first from Japan and now from almost everywhere, has transformed manufacturing. Even shop-floor workers are expected to work with their brains as well as their hands, as flexible production replaces mass production. …In fact, the golden age of blue-collar man was the product of a peculiar set of circumstances, when Europe and Japan were on their backs, mass-production ruled in the factories and a small number of companies could dominate the American economy.

… those blue-collar workers bear much of the responsibility for their own fate. This is particularly true in the car industry, which tended to set the pattern for much of the rest of the American economy. Trade unions frequently hampered their industries with rules that blocked more flexible and productivity-boosting manufacturing techniques…

… But there is still hope for blue-collar workers as long as they are willing to learn from the calamity that is General Motors. Plenty of manufacturing companies, even carmakers, have flourished at a time when General Motors has floundered…”

Lexington. Blue-collar America. The Economist. June 6th-12th 2009. Pp 46. Ed. The Economist Newspaper Ltd.

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Posted by on June 8, 2009 in Lean Manufacturing


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A Lean revenge against mass production from ”The Economist” point of view. Part I

“…GM, Ford and Chrysler tried to improve: by 2006 they had almost caught up with Japanese standards of efficiency and even quality. But by then, GM’s share of American market had fallen go below a quarter. Rounds of closures and job cuts were difficult to negotiate with unions, and were always too little too late. Gradually the cars got better, but Americans had moved on. The younger generation of carbuyers stayed faithful to their Toyotas, Hondas or Mercedes assembled in the new cheaper factories below the Mason-Dixon line. GM and the other American firms were left with the older buyers who were, literally, dying out.

GM’s demise should not be read as a harbinger of doom for the car industry. All around the world people want wheels: a car tends to be the first big purchase a family makes once its income rises much above $5000 a year, in purchasing-power terms. At the same time as people in developing countries are getting richer, more efficient factories and better designs are making cars more affordable. That is why the IMF forecasts that the world will have nearly 3 billion cars in 2050…

… Yet although the long-term prospects for ales growth look excellent overall, the car industry has a problem: it needs to shrink dramatically. At present, there’s enough capacity globally to make 90m vehicles a year, but demand is little more than 60m in good economic times. Even as the big global manufacturers have been building new factories in emerging markets, governments in slow-growing rich-world markets have been bribing them to keep capacity open there.

Because the industry employs so many people and is a repository of high technology, governments are easily lured into the belief that car firms must be supported when times are tough. Hence Mr Obama’s $50 billion rescue of GM; and hence, too, the German government’s financial backing for the sale of Opel, GM’s European arm, to Magna, a Canadian parts maker backed by a Russian state-owned bank. German politicians have made it clear that they plan to keep German factories open even if others elsewhere in Europe have to close. At least the American rescue recognizes the need to remove capacity from the market: GM will, as a result of the deal, lose 14 factories, 29.000 workers and 2.400 dealers

It could still be a great business

For all its peculiarities, the car industry is no dinosaur-Toyota, for instance is a byword for manufacturing excellence. But the unevolved GM deserves extinction. Detroit employed so many people and figured so large in American culture that governments felt they had to protect it; but in doing so, they made it vulnerable to less-coddled competitors from abroad. By trying to keep their car industry big, America’s leaders ended up preventing it from becoming good. There is a lesson in that which all governments would do well to learn”

The decline and fall of General Motors. Detroitosaurus wrecks. The Economist. June 6th-12th 2009. Pp 10. Ed. The Economist Newspaper Ltd.

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Posted by on June 8, 2009 in Lean Manufacturing


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The Toyota Way is more than Tools and Techniques

So you set up your kanban system (Kanban is the Japanese word for “card”, “ticket”, or “sign” and is a tool for managing the flow and production of materials in a Toyota-style “pull” production system.) You put in the andon, which is a visual control device in a production area that alerts workers to defects, equipment abnormalities, or other problems using signals such as lights, audible alarms, etc. Finally with these devices your workplace looks like a Toyota plant. Yet, over time your workspace reverts to operating like it did before. You call in a Toyota Production System (TPS) expert who shakes her head disapprovingly. What is wrong

The real work of implementing Lean has just begun. Your workers do not understand the culture behind TPS. They are not contributing to the continuous improvement of the system or improving themselves. In the Toyota Way, it is the people who bring the system to life: working, communicating, resolving issues and growing together. From the first look at excellent companies in Japan practicing lean manufacturing, it was clear that the workers were active in making improvement suggestions. But the Toyota Way goes well beyond this; it encourages, supports and in fact demands employee involvement

The more I have studied TPS and the Toyota Way, the more I understand that it is a system designed to provide the tools for people, not less. It is a culture, even more than a set of efficiency and improvement techniques. You depend upon the workers to reduce inventory, identify hidden problems, and fix them. The workers have a sense of urgency, purpose and teamwork because if they don’t fix it there will be an inventory outage. On a daily basis, engineers, skilled workers, quality specialists, vendors, team leaders, and -most importantly- operators are involved in continuous problem solving and improvement, which over time trains everyone to become better problem solvers

One lean tool that facilitates this teamwork is called 5S (sort, stabilize, shine, standardize and sustain), which is a series of activities for eliminating wastes that contribute to errors, defects and injuries. In this improvement method, the fifth S, sustain, is arguably the hardest. It’s the one that keeps the first for S’s going by emphasizing the necessary education, training, and continuously improve operating procedures and the workplace environment. This effort requires a combination of committed management, proper training, and a culture that makes sustaining improvement a habitual behavior for the shop floor to management.

This chapter provides a synopsis of the 14 principles that constitute the Toyota Way. The principles are organized in four broad categories: 1) Long-Term Philosophy. 2) The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results. 3) Add Value to the Organization by Developing Your People, and 4) Continuously Solving Root Problems Drives Organizational Learning.

Summary of the 14 Toyota Way Principles

  1. Section I: Long-Term Philosophy.

    1. Principle 1: Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.
  2. Section II: The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results.
    1. Principle 2: Create continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.
    2. Principle 3: Use “pull” systems to avoid overproduction.
    3. Principle 4: Level out the workload (heijunka). (Work like the tortoise, not the hare).
    4. Principle 5: Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time.
    5. Principle 6: Standardized tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.
    6. Principle 7:Use visual control so no problems are hidden.
    7. Principle 8: Use only reliable, throughly tested technology that serves your people and processes.
  3. Section III: Add value to the Organization by Developing Your People and Partners
    1. Principle 9: Grow leaders who throughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.
    2. Principle 10: Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.
    3. Principle 11: Respect your extend network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.
  4. Section IV: Continuously Solving Root Problems Drives Organizational Learning
    1. Principle 12: Go and see for yourself to throughly understand the situation (genchi genbutsu).
    2. Principle 13: Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options implement decisions rapidly.
    3. Principle 14: Become a learning organization thorough relentless reflection (hansei) and continuous improvement (kaizen).

“How does TPS apply to my business? We do not make high volume cars; we make low-volume, specialized products” or “We are a professional service organization, so TPS does not apply to us”. This line of thinking tells they are missing the point. Lean is not about imitating the tools used by Toyota in a particular manufacturing process. Lean is about developing principles that are right for your organization and diligently practicing them to achieve high performance that continues to add value to customers and society. This, of course, means being competitive and profitable. Toyota’s principles are a great starting point. And Toyota practices these principles far beyond its high-volume assembly lines.

This text has been extracted from Jeffrey K. Liker (2004) The Toyota Way; 14 management principles from the world’s greatest manufacturer.  Ed. Mc Graw-Hill  2004 Find it on Amazon

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Posted by on June 6, 2009 in Uncategorized


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A TQM approach to inspection

Cheap availability of technology.

I read daily about silicon and semiconductor industries. In the actual situation, with a liquidity squeeze, it seems that technological development will soften the rocketing curve that was following and now we see at our backs. Lower demand and less available money for companies to invest in the latest technology have resulted in the closure of the last silicon fab in Silicon Valley and problems for AMD, Quimonda and many others. Regardless of this, we have lived a buoyant period where Moore’s Law was met rigorously.

Advanced n-generation quality control systems have spread in all sectors because of their increasing capabilities, computing power and reduced price. Caliper and gauges are old fashioned tools, where now we have inspection systems checking thousands of features per second in 100% of the production. Behind, SPC tools provide sound and nice charts in real time about production parameters, and the most competitive organizations feed-back this information to take corrective action and maintain quality standards in product specifications.

CMM machines with the most diverse tip materials, vision systems and smart cameras that can provide 3D measurements to be compared directly against CAD models with accuracies of microns, computer software to evaluate deviation, virtual gauges. All this with the formula more (accuracy, speed, precision, repeatability, flexibility) for less (investment, change-over time, calibration) with some additives like connectivity, screening in portable devices, wireless, the list is long.

Check list, an always reliable tool

Check list, an always reliable tool

Resource optimizing strategies

Unfortunately, the availability and acquisition of technology doesn’t guarantees an advantage over competitors. We know how disastrous would be that a non conforming product reaches our customers, that’s why we invest and put effort in inspecting a certain percentage of the production, or even all manufactured parts. Right, no defective product will pass because the available technology permits checking connectivity, metrology, with all sort of non destructive tests. As I explained before, and in other writings, most companies will use inspection data to feed back the production process when the characteristics are getting out of tolerance, changing tools, modifying temperatures, etc. As a good example of CIM practices, data gathered from inspection, influences in real time other manufacturing operations. If the product results to be out of tolerance will be rejected.

In the best case, this part will be a steel casting, a composite or an assembly of a little number of parts. If the inspection results NOT OK, the part can be re-cycled with a low cost or re-worked. If the inspection is carried at the end or even final stages of a complex assembly process, as many parts of different materials are mounted together, as more expensive results fixing the defect. Anyways, it is evident that this non-conforming product didn’t cost nothing to the company. Materials from our low level inventory were dedicated, machines have been used, tools have been worn, electricity, energy, workers wages dedicated to a failed product, and what is more important, we allocated time and resources of our value-adding stream into building a defective part bringing more investment, while a good part would have returned capital.

The question is again how to keep quality levels while reducing costs (very interesting nowadays), and I don’t have the magic recipe, but I know the strategies from a TQM point of view. The strategy is not to ensure the quality level by inspecting against specifications, but to build quality in our product. Even when this seems a stereotye, by ensuring that all produced parts are conforming from the first stages and processes from the value stream, the probability of finding a defective product at the end is highly reduced, but is not my aim to speak here about the benefits of TQM or design for manufacturing, etc.. If only good parts are produced, is there a need for inspection? Yes, but let’s do it the smart way.

Let’s carry inspection in a smart way to improve TQM

If we take for instance a steel part produced in a foundry, inspecting the finished part for measurements is ok, but inspecting the sand cores used for the casting will give better results because you ensure that no defective part will be produced from this source, and all the operations and machining carried in the part from this point are adding value to a good unit. The same applies to many operations in metal forming, presses, punch dies, etc. And inspection must be performed before adding more value in form of grinding, milling or drilling, because those tools and time are too expensive to waste them in a non conforming product. Besides, those tools and inserts can be also inspected by vision systems or other means to ensure they will perform as expected.

When manufacturing electronic products and devices, where assembly involves many digital and electro-mechanical components, quality control after each operation is crucial. In an SMD process, if inspection is carried after reflow, defects like tombstoning and connectivity are easily identified, but reworking the part because the wrong component was picked&placed by the robot or misalignment, would be prohibitively expensive.

Inspection and value adding flow

Inspection and value adding flow

As a conclusion, I suggest that inspection is recommended (not necessary) to ensure quality. If we are addressing a manufacturing process from a TQM strategy the efforts should be in the direction of building quality in the product along the process (from design to manufacturing and all the product life-cyle), and not constraining the strategy to implement inspection at the end of a certain operation or at the end of the production lane.

More and more, when inventory reduction and lean implementations are spreading around, we can not permit the utilization of resources to manufacture a bad part that could have been detected before. In addition, we will be able to address the defect source earlier, because it will be easily identified at an early stage, getting rid of blind fire-fighting-guess-where-the-problem-is time consuming activities.


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Principle 7: Use visual control so no problems are hidden

I have visited many premises where cleanliness was taken really seriously. After each shift, workplaces were clean out, broomed and tools left in their asigned places.  Procedures were set  for maitaining a minimum level of order in a smaller number of factories, but were even less the number of companies where management got involved in these disciplines. It is only by encouraging labour and with a ‘do as you say’ attitudes that waste created around product flow can be reduced.  And it is then when we obtain visual control over a wider range of processes being able to identify problems.

Visual control is not only important in a manufacturing environment, where circuit boards or cranksafts are to be produced. But also in project management. Keeping information simple, available to all the involved parts and up to date is something necessary for process improvement in any service company.  A good way to start with is by collecting the most important documents around the project. Let’s use just a ring folder and paper sheets

Gantt charts and Critical Path Method analysis give an apropiate overview of the project timelines with just a glance.  A list of specifications, and deliverables can be drafted. Budgets, tool and equipment purchases can be listed by hand. When tasks are identified, listed and distributed they can be followed with a log book.  When we list tasks and procedures, internal and external cutomers are appear. It is easy to keep track of the project by reading  and updating hand written annotations. Of course delays and set backs will appear, and those must be added in the form of notes. All the generated documentation can be kept in the folder with a4 sheet written just in one side, so no problem is hidden. Probably as the project problems will appear for meeting deadlines, key suppliers, investments, and modifications in the project specifications but is not until we list them and are able to review that we can outline them. At the end of the project, the team can spend a sesion going through the whole project and helping with stablishing solutions to avoid the sam set backs once again. Therefore, continuous improvement starts to be a fact, and not a theory.

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Posted by on April 27, 2009 in Uncategorized


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