Lean Manufacturing is Not About Software, But Software Can Help

November, 2003

One mistake that companies make is thinking that every business improvement initiative requires software. Lean manufacturing is focused on inventory reduction and elimination of waste so that process variability can be reduced, lead times can be shortened, and productivity can be increased.

None of this at its core requires new software. In fact, advocates of lean manufacturing sometime try not to make significant changes to software, to avoid the risk of turning the effort into an IT project. You can accomplish lean manufacturing without software, but you can’t do it without lean thinking.

Nevertheless, software can play a role in support of lean manufacturing. For example, automated systems can:

  1. Provide process modeling tools to map the value stream and simulate changes before they are implemented.
  2. Calculate key metrics and drivers for lean, such as kanban sizes and takt time.
  3. Enable rapid collection of process data, such as statistical process control data and yield data.
  4. Establish and maintain repetitive schedules, which are often used when implementing lean, in place of traditional order-based scheduling systems.
  5. Eliminate wasted motion associated with managing and distributing paperwork, through electronic document management systems.
  6. Provide an “electronic kanban” between trading partners–an electronic demand-pull notification that a downstream node in the supply chain requires replenishment.
  7. Support a corrective action system, to record defects and other anomalies, analyze root causes, and track corrective and preventive actions to improve the overall performance of the quality system.

There are a number of software vendors that provide functionality in support of lean manufacturing. PeopleSoft is acquiring JCIT’s Demand Flow system, an early innovator in lean manufacturing. Oracle and QAD have also introduced functionality specifically in support of lean.

In addition, there are several niche software vendors that, similar to JCIT, provide point solutions in support of lean. These include CellFusion, Exemplary, Factory Logic, Invistics, and Softbrand’s DemandStream offering.

November 2003