Simplicity is Lean

Most manufacturers are familiar with or are using lean principles to streamline manufacturing and related processes. While this effort pays dividends reducing direct manufacturing costs, look upstream. Often the new product concept and design processes are not in the lean-loop and by then it is too late to be truly lean. Most new products initially go through a design, prototype, refine, release cycle. Guess what? Most people involved with those new product launch processes are not practicing lean. It is not in their nature to think lean design and attack where there is most to be gained, which is product simplification.

Any component that can be designed out of a product is the ultimate in lean, since that part does not even exist to quantify waste, including supply chain logistics, inventory costs, etc. Believe me, as an engineer I find it easy to fall into this trap. We look at the functional requirement and build up the product around that requirement, not giving much (or at least enough) thought to simplicity. We draw on our past experiences to produce a functional and acceptable product. While that works, we’re not thinking lean.

Today’s technologies offer so much opportunity for part count reduction. The automotive and mobile phone industries demonstrate countless examples of lean product simplification. Fasteners are being replaced by adhesives and integrated snaps. Robotics take the place of clipity-clop mechanical contraptions. Ethernet and fiber-optic networking has reduced giant bundles of cable into a single wire. Have you checked the price of some of these so called high-tech products lately? You might be surprised to find that simple (i.e. lean) has become cost-effective. Is your first thought when looking at a machine “Wow. That looks complicated.”? If something looks complicated, it likely is.

We start thinking about lean principles when the new product hits the manufacturing floor. But every product you make can be designed leaner and simplified. And it’s time for you to simplify it. Then when you’re done simplifying it, repeat the cycle. Master this process and you win.

The author is R&D / Engineering Manager at GED Integrated Solutions.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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