How to Achieve a Lean Supply Chain

Meagan Douglas
Thu, Sep 19, 2013

Manufacturing organizations have been using software and new technology, such as data collection tools, over the recent years to help increase efficiency, become more productive and achieve a lean supply chain. Industry professional Roy Shurling said "lean concepts," or ideas that will allow organizations to maximize their value and minimize waste, have become far more popular and easy to achieve. While some are further along than others, most are realizing just how much a tool like this can add.

"Customer value encompasses all of the processes and people involved throughout the supply chain, from concept to product delivery," he said. "One of the most important areas in which a lean [supply chain] approach can make a considerable difference is the manufacturing process. In fact, a lean manufacturing process can create a domino effect, driving efficiencies throughout the rest of the supply chain. And today's technology is the cornerstone to accelerating the elimination of waste and costs, and staying competitive in today's challenging economic landscape."

Before production begins, organizations should make sure the product is designed for manufacturing and take into account constraints and what kind of cost, time and quality will need to be put into the system. With new software tools, product design and production can be more easily tied together by arming businesses with information to test various phases of the project, according to Shurling. Smart executives will look at information gleaned from this software and use it to avoid waste, choose the best suppliers and organize the supply chain to complement business objectives.

Better technology will likely also mean automation, which should increase flexibility and allow for shorter production times.

"Understanding lean principles, and working with technology that applies those principles seamlessly in the cutting room, has increased their speed, capacity, and reduced both process and material waste," Shurling wrote. "Embodying lean principles can also have a trickle down effect on how suppliers are selected. Suppliers are now scrutinized on how they approach waste within their own organizations. Moreover, the level of support they provide is crucial to avoiding downtime."

Steps to Becoming Lean
Lean Thinking, a book by Jim Womack and Dan Jones, founders of the Lean Enterprise Institute and the Lean Enterprise Academy, respectively, spelled out the principles of how a company can go lean, first starting with a purpose for solving customer problems and achieving a more efficient purpose. Lean.org said after this, organizations should assess their process, looking at each major value stream to be sure it is behaving the way it should. The final step should be looking at the people in the process by evaluating how everyone can add to the value stream of a process.

"Just as a carpenter needs a vision of what to build in order to get the full benefit of a hammer, lean thinkers need a vision before picking up our lean tools," said Womack. "Thinking deeply about purpose, process, people is the key to doing this."

Shurling wrote that by adopting technology to help with lean thinking, such as data capture software or an inventory system, companies can streamline operations, reduce waste and vastly improve the company's performance.

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