Lean manufacturing’s innovative focus on reducing costs, eliminating waste, and speeding up production resulted in large gains in productivity and substantial cost savings for manufacturers who chose to embrace it. Now, a second wave of transformation is underway with the introduction of technology to the lean framework. As the modern manufacturing process generates massive amounts of valuable data, manufacturers have the ability to gain unprecedented visibility into the entire process—from sourcing raw materials to final delivery of the finished product. Digital lean manufacturing has ushered in next-level gains in efficiency and profitability.
7 Principles of Lean Manufacturing
Before we dive into how technology is turbocharging the lean framework, let’s first get a lay of the land by reviewing the seven principles of lean manufacturing. These principles define the core mission of lean manufacturing, with each viewing the production process through a different lens.
1. Eliminate waste
Broadly applied, this principle includes eliminating any unnecessary movement of a product as it’s being assembled, reducing inefficient motion of workers on the factory floor, avoiding the production of more goods than the market demands, and eliminating quality-control issues that result in finished products being returned or scrapped.
2. Continuous improvement
Creating a quality product is an ongoing evolution consisting of many small, incremental steps forward. Continuous improvement prioritizes small steps forward over giant leaps.
3. Respect for people
The success of any manufacturing operation is dependent on the mindset of the people who work there. Workers who don’t feel safe, secure, valued, and challenged in their jobs are unlikely to offer their full talents to the goal of creating a smarter and more efficient operation.
4. Levelized production
Successful manufacturers strike the right balance between producing products based on in-hand customer orders and projected demand. Levelized production stresses the importance of finding the middle ground between these two competing factors.
5. Just-in-time production
Manufacturing what’s needed when it’s needed is the foundation of just-in-time production. Taking steps before they’re called for requires time and money that doesn’t yet need to be expended.
6. One-piece flow
One-piece flow emphasizes the importance that no part of the production process is ever waiting idle. Production units move in a tightly orchestrated flow from one station to another with no gaps.
7. Quality built in
When quality-assurance practices are built into each step in the manufacturing process, time and resources are saved by reducing the need for intensive quality-assurance checks or having to discard or remanufacture products that are defective. From product design to packaging, designing each step to highlight quality-control issues allows problems to be detected and addressed much more quickly.
How Data Is Transforming Lean Manufacturing
When data informs lean manufacturing practices, the efficiency gains and profitability improvements increase exponentially. Here’s what’s possible:
Digital lean manufacturing enables companies to more accurately predict orders and proactively adjust production schedules to more closely align with actual demand. Collecting and analyzing data from diverse sources, including historical demand data, supplier data, customer data, weather data, demographic data, and economic indicators, AI and ML algorithms can process numerous data sets quickly to provide decision-makers with more-accurate demand forecasting.
When products go out of stock, manufacturers risk disappointing customers who may choose to switch to a competitor with more reliable availability. Real-time data analytics provides enhanced visibility into work-in-progress inventory throughout the entire production process, helping to identify mismatches between customer demand and inventory.
Improving product quality
Defective products are costly by every measure. Lapses in quality control result in customer returns and unnecessary expense. IoT sensors mounted strategically throughout the production line can be used to catch defects quickly. These connected devices are capable of taking precision measurements, evaluating each unit against a set of predetermined parameters.
Increasing production efficiencies
A digital twin is a virtual reproduction of a real-life manufacturing process, created using data gathered from numerous sources. This virtual replica allows plant managers to make adjustments to the production line without actually changing the physical layout of the factory floor. Digital twins can be used to verify if changes will result in intended efficiency gains before any actual adjustments are made.
Eliminating sources of production delays
Factories rely on timely deliveries from suppliers. Supply chain analytics pulls manufacturing data from internal and external sources to detect potential delays in the delivery of raw materials, giving decision-makers an opportunity to switch suppliers, adjust the mode of transportation, or make other changes to avoid costly assembly-line shutdowns.
More efficient use of labor
IoT sensors mounted on and around workers on the factory floor can be used to precisely measure the individual movements of workers. This data can be analyzed to uncover parts of the production process where time and effort is wasted. Digital sensors can also be used to measure stress and other forces applied to individual workers, alerting production managers when these metrics exceed safe levels.
Keys to Implementing Digital Lean Manufacturing Practices
Implementing digital lean manufacturing can dramatically improve operations. Here’s how to get the most out of this data-driven approach to manufacturing.
Begin with small, achievable goals
Aligning an entire operation with digital lean manufacturing practices takes time. Many small, incremental changes add up to bigger ones over time. Begin by choosing one area that’s ripe for improvement, then define a series of small steps that move your organization toward realizing the larger goal.
Secure stakeholder buy-in
Implementing digital lean manufacturing practices requires broad support, from upper management to team members working on the factory floor. A successful shift to digital lean practices must begin with an explanation of the benefits to everyone.
Invest in the necessary digital technologies
Digital lean manufacturing processes are only as effective as the technology and data used to support them. Networked IoT sensors, smart tools, computerized equipment, and robots are rich sources of valuable data. Investing in these technologies will ensure your digital transformation has a strong foundation.
Assess data processing and storage capabilities and upgrade infrastructure as needed
Digital lean manufacturing runs on the collection, processing, storage, and analysis of massive amounts of data. Legacy data storage and compute resources are often incapable of keeping pace with the increased demands of this data-intensive practice. In contrast, modern cloud data solutions offer instantly scalable data storage and compute resources that support a wide range of data formats.
Evaluate progress using measurable data
Digital lean manufacturing practices use data to inform next steps, making it easy to evaluate progress or, in some cases, lack of progress toward key goals. Periodically evaluating progress allows you to make incremental adjustments for continual improvement.
Snowflake for Lean Manufacturing
The Snowflake Data Cloud for manufacturing is the ideal solution for powering today’s digital lean manufacturing initiatives. Snowflake delivers the performance, scalability, and data sharing capabilities needed for supply chain optimization, production quality and efficiency, manufacturing automation, and robotics and IoT initiatives. With Snowflake, you can easily manage always-on streams of sensor and device data, customer data, transaction data, and supplier data to build efficient data pipelines. Snowflake offers the data capabilities manufacturers need to fully realize the benefits of digital lean manufacturing.
See Snowflake’s capabilities for yourself. To give it a test drive, sign up for a free trial.