Lean Manufacturing is a philosophy to reduce
waste in an organization. One tool to accomplish this is the
implementation of a Pull System, which dictates that a product is
not made or moved until it is consumed, and the authorization to
move or build the product is through a Kanban replenishment signal.
The Lean concept to reduce waste and remove non value-added
activities can be applied throughout an entire organization and
applies to every department. For the purposes of this article, I
will focus on manufacturing and inventory.
The two basic manufacturing philosophies are Push Systems and Pull
Systems. A Pull System is used in the Lean Environment. A Push
System is used by most U.S. manufacturers that are Material
Requirement Planning (MRP) driven. The difference is as the term
applies, opposite from each other. Simply put, a Pull System is
focused on customer consumption and then replenishment, while a Push
System is focused on producing based on machine-process efficiency
or an inaccurate MRP forecast, and then waiting for the customer to
consume the product. The term “customer” applies to those both
internal and external to the organization.
An example of a Push System is when a replenishment order is made,
the quantity of the build is based on machine or process time and
expected future customer demand. The quantity is generally larger
than the immediate demand, and the balance remains in inventory
waiting to be consumed, which could take months or may never occur.
The benefit of focusing on machine or process efficiency is
overshadowed by the risk of building additional inventory that may
not sell, might require revisions, or could simply expire.
An example of a Pull System is establishing an appropriate inventory
level with a focus on replenishment lead time to satisfy the actual
customer consumption. A Pull Company builds only what is consumed
and when it is consumed. The inventory level is only what is
required for the customer demand, so the risk of inventory
obsolescence or expiration is minimized. The need for a production
schedule is removed as production only builds what is consumed in
the sequence it is consumed. The mechanism used to inform production
to fill an inventory position is called a Kanban Replenishment.
Kanban is Japanese for “signal”.
An additional benefit of a Pull System is that the rush to “push”
orders through a system is removed, so work flows on actual demand
“pulls” and quality improves naturally due to a smooth manufacturing
process. Consider all of the valuable machine time, materials,
manpower and effort required to build to a Push System when a Pull
System redirects these resources to build only what is required and
when it is needed. The company saves money in areas unrealized
before, such as improved quality, fewer rejects, better customer
service, less planning, and lower management overhead. By being
Lean, the focus of profit per piece-produced is replaced with the
actual net profit of the entire company’s through-put.
Is Lean Manufacturing another fad? Not really. Lean Manufacturing is
an American name for a process that the Japanese have been using
effectively for thirty years. To quickly review Japan’s success,
post WW2 they were known as manufacturers of cheap “knock-offs”.
However, starting in the 1970s, Japan became the world’s leading
supplier of affordable technology, putting the American camera,
video and TV manufacturers (and almost the entire U.S. automotive
industry) out of business. Keep in mind that Japan doesn’t have
cheap labor either. So perhaps Lean Manufacturing should be
considered more of a necessity than a fad.
Robert W F Krause II
MRP/ERP/Lean Manufacturing Specialist