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Lean Manufacturing in Build to Order, Complex and Variable Environments

Lean Manufacturing in Build to Order, Complex and Variable Environments

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Until now, many experts thought the application of Lean manufacturing in complex and variable environments was impossible in most cases. Level scheduling and standard processes, two hallmarks of Lean manufacturing, are difficult to achieve in industries that produce complex products that must be customized for specific applications. The widely varying processing times that result from the fabrication of different combinations of sub assemblies required for products in such categories make the maintenance of continuous flow, another hallmark of Lean manufacturing, seem an insurmountable goal. But the authors of this book, international consultants to companies turning out such products, have found ways to deal with these challenges and to employ Lean manufacturing techniques in order to maximize labor, plant and equipment productivity.
A key aspect of the methodology explained is the use of sophisticated scheduling software to eliminate bottlenecks and to minimize downtime in the pursuit of continuous flow. Another is to lay out production lines in a way that arranges the different machines used to create product variations so that each product variation can be routed through assembly on the shortest and most efficient path. Depending on the level of customization, one may take a direct route while another requiring more work might be diverted to a side track. The authors compare this to local trains that take side trips off the main line while express trains continue on to arrive at the terminal sooner.
Mr. Larco and his team believe that high customization, low cost, quick turnaround, and diminishing volumes characterize the future of this type of manufacturing. If a company can set these as goals and achieve them, it will have important strategic advantages over the competition. Specialized products generally cost significantly more than standard, off the shelf models. By using Lean manufacturing techniques, however, the authors maintain that this no longer must be so. They say that whatever the industry, whether it be automotive, apparel, electronics, consumer products, white goods, industrial products, or anything in between, the issues are similar and so are the solutions. This book will give executives in these categories a vision of what can be done to jump ahead of their competitors.