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Lean, the Internet of Things and Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing, derived from innovative quality systems Japanese automakers put in place decades ago, is widely embraced today across a range of manufacturing industries. “Lean” is a comprehensive process that eliminates waste from manufacturing processes, thereby improving quality and efficiency, reducing cost and adding value for the customer. For most manufacturers today, “lean” is an ongoing process of quality improvement that ideally becomes part of the corporate culture.


Lean uses a variety of tools to identify and remove waste such as value stream mapping. These tools are still valid today; however, with recent technology advances, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), lean conditions can be achieved must faster. For example, value stream mapping was once a visual, paper-and-pencil exercise for identifying waste components in any process stream. Now, with machine-to-machine communication and real-time data transmission, these sources of waste can be identified with a computer as they happen—and be immediately corrected—without needing eyes on the process.


Next Generation Lean


The goal of lean hasn’t changed: reduce waste and add value in the manufacturing process. Still, the effectiveness of lean principles can be vastly improved by integrating them with advanced software, sensors, automation, robotics and other technologies that are key to Internet of Things/Industry 4.0 processes. This allows for constant, real-time monitoring, faster decision-making, improved efficiency and less waste.


IoT intersects with lean methodology and has the potential to take lean to the next level,” points out Dean Hamilton, senior vice president for Acclerite, a provider of business-critical infrastructure software. “The information gleaned from connected devices, including user experiences with a variety of products, can be fed back to instrumented factories to provide unprecedented opportunities to enhance manufacturing processes and reduce waste.”


“Of all the technologies associated with lean manufacturing, machine-to-machine communications—what many now call the Internet of Things—stands to have the greatest impact, creating a pipeline of data that can be leveraged to fine-tune lean strategies and make adjustments on the fly,” explains technology writer Beth Stackpole.


Ashwin Patil, managing director for global manufacturing analytics for Deloitte Consulting LLP, also agrees.


Predictive tools and machine learning allow potential problems to be identified and corrected before they occur,” he states. “The value of lean manufacturing and just-in-time processes like Kaizen and Kanban improves exponentially,” when intelligence obtained via IoT and analytics can be applied.


Even with all these enticing tools and technologies, the first step is still the most basic—value stream map each process in a product’s life cycle.


Real-time value-stream mapping should be the basis and focus of all improvement measures, whether with lean production or Industry 4.0 methods,” advises Stephanie Peitzker, who runs the marketing solutions team at Bosch Software Innovations. “Industry 4.0 can support real‑time data analysis, and value stream mapping is part of lean production. When combined, they serve as an excellent foundation for improvements.


Ultimately, IoT and machine-to-machine communications will allow manufacturers to achieve a state of lean that was extremely difficult achieve, and in some cases impossible to even consider, using traditional lean initiatives and manual processes and improvements.


Lean in the Digital Age


The future of lean is clear – it will be data-driven. Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence technologies, combined with the flexibility, processing and storage capabilities of cloud computing, will give manufacturers the ability to optimize IoT data and leverage it as part of their lean methodologies.


“However, the promise of an evolved ‘higher-order paradigm of lean,’” says Hamilton, “is entirely dependent on a manufacturer’s ability to derive meaningful insight from data.”


Companies must also invest in the big-data infrastructure and processes that are needed to interpret the data as well as enable quick decisions.  “With IoT, we’re creating the data that helps make the decisions, but creating the data for data’s sake isn’t doing anyone any good,” said Steve Halliday, president of High Tech Aid, a consulting company specializing in manufacturing and the supply chain. “Just because you have lots of data doesn’t make you efficient.”


Industry 4.0 will create manufacturing environments in which customer demand is much better understood and data are shared in real-time through complex supply chains and networks, creating lean systems that were simply not possible before.


“The gathering of multi-dimensional data and its analysis by cloud computing leads to machines operating in perfect harmony with one another,” states Ayperi Okur, chief researcher at the Lean Institute Turkey. “This is revolutionary for lean, and it won’t be long before value stream mapping becomes automatic through the use of IoT and is updated in real time.”

"IoT intersects with lean methodology and has the potential to take lean to the next level."
Dean Hamilton, Senior Vice President


    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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