Reaction Gauge: Lean Manufacturing
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, paper towels and toilet paper couldn’t be found anywhere. Consumer hording was blamed for the empty shelves, but according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, lean manufacturing is the culprit. The low inventory of supplies made it impossible for manufacturers to respond to the drastic spike in demand for those products. Some argue that even manufacturers who don’t follow lean principles didn’t have sufficient inventory to adapt to the demands of a pandemic. How can manufacturers—lean or not—prepare for once-in-a-lifetime situations such as a pandemic? What can they do to ensure there isn’t a detrimental impact on the manufacturing of their products?
1 Replies
I am author of the first book (by a non-Japanese) featuring lean manufacturing, at first known as just-in-time manufacturing: Japanese Manufacturing Techniques: Nine Hidden Lessons in Simplicity (1982, Free Press). Later, the business press, plus consultants and authors, were inclined to rename the methodology as just-in-time inventory. That label relates closely to the Reaction Gauge question as to "insufficient inventory" as the/a cause of "empty shelves." But just-in-time "inventory" is not the essence of lean/JIT: "customer pull" is much closer to the mark. But manufacturers who aspire/claim to be bastions of customer pull usually are far from it. What's missing, mostly, is "flexible response." Those ostensibly lean producers take high pride in their takt-time schedules, while generally obeying the conventional siren song of high resource (people and equipment) utilization--in the belief that lean must reduce (in-process) costs (and not just inventory costs). What's sorely missing is flexibility to easily and quickly adapt to always unpredictable demand. To do that requires simple, low-cost facilities in multiples (the cellular/focused plant-in-a-plant concept)--no monuments--such that there is plentiful redundant capacity in the form of low-utilization, even some mostly idle, cells. I've written many articles about this, one label of which is "concurrent production." For further reference please see my (rather crude, rarely updated) website,