Why Mobilizing Your Lean Manufacturing Tools Can Eliminate Waste

By Rachel Nitschke | Sep 14, 2015

How does this add value?

This was the main question that guided Kiichiro Toyoda and the Toyota leadership team when they built upon Henry Ford’s assembly line production model to develop the Toyota Production System, occasionally referred to affectionately as the “Toyota Way.” All steps in the production of a product need to add value; everything else is waste, with the allowance for a relatively small amount of non-value adding, but necessary work.

As waste is eliminated from a process, the cost and time involved in its production decreases– without sacrificing and even improving the quality of the end-product. Mobility knits the people, processes and data in your production more closely together, fostering better decision-making from people, more efficient processes and more actionable data. Each of these connections also requires the elimination of waste in process and communications.

When Toyota first created the Toyota Production System, the team identified three types of waste: muri (the planning and design of the process), mura (how the design is implemented, including accounting for variations) and muda (the waste of production realized after the process is in place). Mobility can help with each waste category, but the production waste (muda) is most relevant for many manufacturers whose tight margins are forcing them to consider leaner operations. Inside of the production waste category, Toyota identified seven wastes, with researchers adding in three more in the late 1990s.

Answering this question for mobile apps in manufacturing compresses down to their ability to eliminate waste from your process.

  1. Transport. According to this Forbes article, one engine manufacturer deployed mobile-based systems to provide real-time updates and track data throughout the production center. The manufacturer made changes to the process and saw serious ROI: the movement of the product going from six miles inside the building to two and cut two weeks from the production time. Consider a mobile solution that integrates with RFID scanning for complete tracking of raw materials as they move through your process.
  2. Inventory. Inventory costs money. And it often hides other wastes, like overproduction and process breakdowns. Lean manufacturers often strive to implement a Vendor-Managed Inventory system so vendors maintain an established inventory level at your facility, often through a ‘Kanban’ system. When supply falls below the established level, the ‘lever’ is pulled to inform the vendor, which is where mobile applications come in. Instead of manually signaling via physical cards, phone calls or a filing system, the signal is automated with employees using a dashboard to manage the overall flow and supply needs of raw materials. Kawasaki mobilized its Kanban process— and saved $3,000 per day in labor costs.
  3. Motion. Searching for another technician on the shop floor. Checking email at the desk and heading over to the shop floor to gather data. Stopping at the dispatch office for a call list. These are all examples of motion waste that mobility can solve. The right mobile app provides the information and connections your employees need– in their pocket.
  4. Waiting. Mobile apps allow you to synchronize your processes and eliminate waiting waste between production steps. As materials move through the production line, RFID scanning integration can alert the people and equipment in the next production step and provide a seamless connection between the two steps. Mobile visualization of your production floor and equipment can also increase successful and quick changeovers between products because your managers will make better decisions with more information about how these changeovers will happen.
  5. Overproduction. To reduce overproduction waste, you have to reduce the causes of the waste. If you’re producing too much or too quickly, you are missing a communications link between your processes (and the data from those processes) and your people. Deploy a mobile app that uses advanced pattern detection and analytics to forecast customers’ demand and take action for production levels on the shop floor. You need to gain full visibility into the capacity utilization of your plant and tighten your demand projections to eventually shorten your cash-to-cash cycle.  
  6. Over-processing. How often have you walked onto the shop floor and noticed that technicians were not using the best practices and techniques not explicitly stated in the manual? You’re seeing over-processing waste where employees and processes are not working in the most efficient way possible. Instead of trusting that employees will use the efficient techniques outlined for them, remind them to do so with a mobile application with near-field communication and bluetooth low energy beacons to describe the efficient techniques to employees as soon as they approach a machine.
  7. Defects. The product goes through the production line, but fails the quality assurance test or, even worse, makes it to a customer who you have now lost. Get ahead of quality issues with predictive maintenance technology or the use of sensors on a machine to monitor performance. The other half of predictive maintenance is the communication of any performance issues to employees. Integrating mobility into your predictive maintenance strategy means that employees can see a push notification wherever they are, and also means the difference between maintenance happening within a few minutes of downtime or a few hours. After the product has moved through the line, your quality control process takes over, and now requires stacks of paperwork and manual data entry. What if the quality control forms were available on a mobile device and populated the identification information for the product automatically? How much time (and labor costs) would that save?

manufacturing sparks

In 1999, Geoffrey Mika, a senior process engineer and expert in lean manufacturing, identified three additional wastes in his book, the Kaizen Event Implementation Manual. Here’s how mobile eliminates those wastes:

  1. Wrong metrics or no metrics. Mobility eliminates this waste on two fronts: improving data collection and making the metrics more accessible. RFID Scanning, SCADA, MES– mobility makes the collection of data from and for these systems more feasible and accurate. The management team may be relying on the wrong metrics if the data collected to support those metrics is not accurate. Mobilizing your metrics dashboard ensures that the leaders in your company are not checking the metrics on Friday afternoon, or worse on the last day of the month. Having them right on your mobile device means you can check progress at any time.
  2. Workers’ suggestions and ideas. When your workers are performing simple tasks manually, such as data entry or equipment checks, you’re building up this waste. With a mobile app to automate and simplify these tasks, you will move your workers from this waste to providing value through analysis of the data and processes involved. Improving communication with management through mobility also creates an environment more conducive to idea-sharing overall.
  3. Improper use of computers. Here’s the most popular word used when working with legacy systems: work-around. Your employees are making the software work for their needs, but it requires extra effort from the employee, creating waste. This is why we have an entire team devoted to user research and strategy; working with the mobile app needs to be as seamless as possible to not generate this waste.

More and more manufacturing industry leaders are rolling out mobile applications to optimize their processes and eliminate waste– what waste will you eliminate by mobilizing your lean manufacturing tools?
digital transformation roadmap for the manufacturing industry

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