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How Data Plays a Role in the Future of Lean Manufacturing

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Today, data is everywhere, being created by countless sources, from IOT devices to video capture to internet behaviors. In many industries, data is poised to be of even greater importance in the coming years. One way that data is predicted to have a huge impact is in manufacturing industries, specifically in companies that employ the “lean manufacturing” or “lean thinking” techniques to improve production. In its simplest definition lean manufacturing is all about continuously working to eliminate or at least minimize ‘muda’ or waste, while at the same time increasing productivity. The term muda refers to anything that does not add value to the end product. When using “lean thinking” to reduce muda, one cannot just cut corners in order to cut costs. Instead a more efficient way to create the product must be found. In other words the quality of the product cannot be negatively affected in any way.

The term muda is not the only term that is unique to this way of manufacturing. Another one  that is commonly used is the term Kaizen. It refers to the principle of continuous improvement. These terms and the “Lean Thinking” ideals are often referred to as the Toyota Way, and were widely introduced to the western world in 1991 with the publication of The Machine That Changed the World by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Ross which broke down the model that many Japanese companies were successfully using. These models include what is known as the 7 categories of waste, which are the 7 most common ways in which companies waste their resources or create muda. They are overproduction, waiting, inventory, transportation, over-processing, motion, defects, and workforce. While some of these issues may seem small, when there is a lack of productivity in more than one of these areas the waste begins to add up.

Now, how does this relate to data? It all comes back to that concept of Kaizen and the need for continuous improvement. A company cannot just work to eliminate waste in their manufacturing once and call it a day.  They need to continually assess the efficiency of their manufacturing and work to streamline it. This is done through the tracking of performance metrics and key performance indicators. While many companies currently use data for the purposes of tracking, they neglect to use it for the purpose of actually improving their operations.  This can be accomplished by using data to produce an evolved modeling system that will allow for the manufacturer to determine what areas of production have waste that can be eliminated or reduced. The amazing part of this is that it can all happen in real time with proper data analytics. Saving companies both time and money when it comes to improving their manufacturing. Based on these successes, other sectors, including government have applied lean manufacturing techniques to improve production and eliminate waste. 

Data capture and its intelligent & innovative use is the future. As more and more companies leverage data to apply and improve lean manufacturing, it becomes clear that it has a critical role to play in the future of the manufacturing industry.