In a world gaining greater focus on renewability, recyclability, and conservation, it’s no surprise that “Lean” is again a buzzword. Between 1948 and 1979, Japanese engineers Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda developed the Toyota Production System (TPS), the foundational predecessor to what would become known as Lean Manufacturing in the 1990s
Today, lean manufacturing is widely used, a verified process proven to reduce waste, increase efficiency, and reduce overall production cost. But more and more manufacturers are using the word lean in a different sense: “Lean Design.”
Where lean manufacturing emphasizes reducing waste within supply chains, lean design focuses attention on a product’s inception and how manufacturers maximize efficiency during the initial design process. It’s not necessarily a new concept – Sandy Munro began development of DFM in the 1980s -- but what lean design aims to accomplish is a focus on preliminary systems producing quality results. The dividend of the resulting equation [success = strategic values minus the drivers of design and process wastes] encompasses every factor, however minimal, that will impact a product’s future success along an all-inclusive value stream.
In short, initial design decisions can and do waste valuable capital. Drafting product expectations and effectively brainstorming solutions to both concrete potential problems greatly mitigates future in-process risk. It goes without saying that the perfect design reduces waste and adds complete value. From beginning to end, a product is not singular, but a sum of its parts. The process is beginning to better reflect this.
Implementing such a comprehensive design methodology can be daunting, but leads to innovation and increased scalability. For example, R&D cost reduction on front-end development not only affects current projects, but future ones as well, providing valuable, repeatable data. What’s more, a culture of inclusive, company-wide lean design affords manufacturers greater flexibility in meeting consumer demands without costly modifications in-process.
Applied correctly, lean design, coupled with lean manufacturing, can accomplish:
- Product value optimization
- Front-end waste prevention
- Concurrent measurement prediction
- Value stream production accountability
- System functionality collaboration
- Leadership integration management
- And predictive problem solving
Analyzing methods, materials, and tasks affords continuous improvement and seamless integration of data to quickly amend problems. The simplification of workflow systems diminish bottlenecks, and flexible design approach alleviates production strain.
Consider an account from Munro given in a 1999 edition of SAE in Manufacturing:
“… At our independent competitive analysis facility - the Harbour & Munro, L.L.C. Benchmarking Information Center - we … tore down and analyzed a newly introduced minivan. It was immediately obvious that the design engineer for the seating system knew steel stamping and welding and, thus, chose this approach ... perhaps adding lot of expensive manufacturing operations.
“We might have suggested a better approach perhaps one that used different materials and processes. With new thinking, more expensive processes and materials many times can actually save cost when you look at the total system. In the case of the minivan we tore down, using lost-foam casting to make near net shape parts could have eliminated a lot of expensive brackets, welding and fastening operations.
“While benchmarking can help products become lean, so can technology transfer. For example, in today's auto industry, success in producing low-volume specialty vehicles requires new thinking - lean thinking. Engineers need to venture out of their comfort zones and begin thinking about eliminating expensive tooling, stamping, and welding operations.”
Sixteen years later, Munro’s words ring as true as ever. Material forms and types, alongside tolerances and geometries, have remained static, yet technology has greatly advanced. Long lasting truths remain: The denser and stronger a material, the harder it is to machine; the tighter the tolerance, the costlier it is to produce. Yet, manufacturers are growing more specialized, more capable of meeting demand quickly. Procedures previously thought necessary to the manufacturing process may in fact be redundant, outdated, or simply unneeded, costing a company thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.
The time to evaluate your process is now. If you’re investing in lean design, don’t become discouraged with imprecise monetary returns: The process produces savings in the long-term. A method such as lean design is not conducive to immediate economic gain, but scalable, cyclical environments through which success and capital gains grow over time. Applying design for lean manufacturing to your company increases value. It does not immediately make obsolete existing product design tools, techniques, or methods. Instead, design for lean manufacturing helps teams bring together into one methodology existing measures, thus creating an ecosystem of repeatable profitability, a supply chain that moves efficiently from beginning to end.