The pandemic was a much-needed wake-up call for manufacturing on digital implementation. Digital tools are no longer optional, and they will continue to be mission-critical as companies search for ways to increase efficiency and productivity. However, with what is looking increasingly like a looming recession, many companies are tightening their budget for investments in new technologies, and rightfully so given the tendency for overblown IT budgets for digital transformation projects in the last decade. The question of how to balance risk and growth amid uncertainty and inflation pressure will determine who will come out on top and ready to seize the opportunities once the economic headwind blows over.

Luckily, augmented lean offers a guide to digital adoption and implementation that can help manufacturers navigate this challenging period without falling behind competitors. Focusing on your workforce as a driver of radical efficiency and productivity increases, the augmented lean framework enables manufacturing companies to gain much-needed growth without sacrificing their financial or operational security and stability, or their innovation momentum.
In an interview with Andrew Keen on the Keen On Podcast, Trond Undheim, Tulip’s Lead Evangelist, shared his thoughts on how augmented lean can make work more productive and meaningful for operators—a critical building block of manufacturers’ foundation for success. Here are the 3 key takeaways on how augmented lean can strengthen your foundation and prepare you for a tumultuous 2023.

1. Maximizing efficiency and productivity of your workforce.

The augmented lean framework guides manufacturers to look inward, not outward, in the search for productivity and efficiency improvements because your workforce is the most commonly underutilized asset. Companies cannot afford to have underutilized assets at a time that requires quick pivots and agile movements.

Automation technologies have matured. Anyone who needs to automate a process can do so easily to solve a single problem. On paper, this should significantly speed up the operations and removes all friction points. However, reality has shown that any improvements brought by automation do not stick without proper adoption and implementation by workers—they still need to be trained to work alongside machines and utilize their automated tools to bring efficiency to the entire process, not just a few steps or stations. Your manufacturing workforce continues to hold the key to growth in a variety of aspects: process optimization, worker retention, and continuous improvements.

The efficiency and productivity boost comes not only from automating manual and repetitive tasks, but from truly augmenting your workers’ abilities with digital tools. By following the principles of augmented lean, manufacturers can give their workers “superpowers”: complete visibility and accountability of the production line that can identify bottlenecks, enhance problem-solving and open room for innovation. The augmented workers can now perform a whole new range of tasks they couldn’t before due to capacity and capability limitations, and make meaningful contributions to the improvements of processes they are involved in. Only then can you develop a natural cycle of continuous improvements that start on the ground level of the operations itself instead of being led by external forces like technological advances or the economic environment.

Many manufacturing companies have significantly invested in developing and maintaining their workforce throughout the War for Talent in 2022. This is the time to turn that investment into value.

Core Principles of Augmented Lean Framework

2. Capitalizing on existing infrastructure to drive incremental changes

For a long time, digital transformation has been synonymous with a hefty price tag and delayed time-to-value. This is due to the indiscriminate adoption of the automation model from the automotive industry to manufacturing: manufacturers have been trying to replicate the high-automation model of the automotive industry in their operations. However, things may look very different on the shop floor compared to that of an automotive factory. Despite efforts to standardize, operations still vary from one plant to another with very different pain points and require solutions that cater to the unique needs of each plant, their operators, and their working conditions. A one-size-fits-all approach to digital transformation will not resonate with operators simply because it doesn’t help make their lives easier.

Augmented lean advocates for technology adoption that is fully based on the pains of operators instead of a top-down digital transformation strategy. That means three things:

  • Eliminate the need to invest in new systems and infrastructure that do not have a quick and tangible impact on the production line. Instead, manufacturers should listen to the frontline operators and lean onto their insights to choose which digital tools that can most effectively alleviate their challenges. Sometimes this means adding inexpensive and easily accessible tools such as sensors or monitors instead of a whole new MES system.

  • Avoid replacing the existing infrastructure if they are still solving valid challenges. Instead of shooting for a solve-all solution, manufacturers should focus on expanding the use cases of their systems by targeting one additional pain point at a time. This is more important now than ever when the room for error is infinitesimal, and the demand for quick response is unparalleled.

  • Reduce reliance on vendors for implementations or updates—these usually come with a high price tag or as part of large packages. Look for software that is built on a platform that allows you the freedom and flexibility to adjust the scale of your deployment based on your needs and conditions. The best software for times like these is that which you can easily download and set up, or better yet, build on your own with no-code development.

3. Balancing governance and innovation to minimize mistakes, disruptions, and delays

Augmented lean is built at the intersection of bottom-up problem-solving and top-down governance. Bottom-up problem-solving empowers those closest to the operations with the tools and data needed to identify the most pressing issues and come up with creative solutions. Top-down governance, on the other hand, allows for the standardization and dissemination of best practices across different facilities and maintains a birds-eye view of the entire organization. Together, they provide end-to-end visibility and a solution for collecting and aggregating data aggregating across multiple stages of production, facilities, and teams.

Augmented lean reshapes the relationship between managers, operators, and plant managers into a more equitable dynamic with the help of digital tools. Managers are no longer the sole participant in the decision-making process, and operators are no longer just followers. For example, by shifting from paper-based operations to digital workflows, manufacturers unlock a whole new dimension of communication between operators and managers. Now operators can collect operational data with built-in quality checks and use it to identify any blind spots or areas of improvement in the process. Engineers can use that feedback to adjust instructions as needed, while plant managers can receive updates on any quality issues in real time and maintain a deep connection with frontline operations without blocking the problem-solving process.

The combination of bottom-up problem-solving and top-down governance is the building block of an agile and resilient organization that can create balance and buy-in, and maintain an agile operation that can quickly adapt to external changes without jeopardizing quality or governance.

Augmented Lean Framework Creates Better Worker Equity

In the coming year, it’s not enough for manufacturers to get ready. They need to stay ready at all times. The next 12 months of come-what-may will be a true test of resilience and agility, and augmented lean offers a concrete roadmap for building that resilience and readiness sustainably.

Learn more about augmented lean in our Augmented Podcast or in the latest book Augmented Lean: A Practical Management Framework for Modern Manufacturers by our CEO and Co-Founder Natan Linder and Lead Evangelist Trond Undheim.

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