I just finished reading an interesting white paper written by IFS (an ERP solution provider that specializes in addressing the needs of complex manufacturing). The title – Lean Enterprise in Complex ETO (Engineer to Order). Drawing from works by Lean experts such as James Womack and Jerry Kilpatrick, the paper does a great job of educating the reader on the principles and benefits of Lean methodologies.
The paper rightfully identifies Lean’s heritage in more high volume, repetitive manufacturing. After all it was pioneered by Toyota. But it also makes a case for Lean in a low volume, highly complex environment. Seems like some of these low volume manufacturers have been listening. According to data collected by The MPI Group for its 2010/2011 Manufacturers Data Report on manufacturing metrics and best practices, low-volume/high-mix manufacturers are actually more likely to have adopted Lean Manufacturing methodologies than an average of all plants surveyed (66.1% of low-volume/high-mix versus 60.8% of all plants) and are also more likely to use the Toyota Production System (TPS) (13.3% of low-volume/high-mix versus 10.5% of all plants). They are also more likely to use pull systems with kanban signals and one-piece flow techniques to manage inventory. As a result, they were able to shave an average of 26% off manufacturing cycle times (versus an average of 14% across all plants) over the past three years and more than half (53%) were also able to increase inventory turns, with 8.8% increasing them by more than 20%.
So if you happen to be one of those complex manufacturers dealing with the challenges of a engineer to order environment and have not embraced Lean methodologies thinking they only pertain to a more simple, repetitive environment… think again.