It’s not an easy time for the manufacturing industry. Even with the pandemic seemingly behind us, challenges continue to rise.

  • Supply chain disruption increased in both frequency and intensity due to a combination of factors such as military conflicts, material and component shortages, extreme weather events, and more. These disruptions are predicted to continue well into 2023.

  • The labor shortage is bringing about a War for Talent. With the Great Resignation dragging on, the manufacturing sector faces a double-edged problem: loss of existing critical workforce and inability to attract new talent.

  • Inflation is impacting production and threatening manufacturers’ bottom line. With the rising cost of raw materials and production, pressure is mounting for leaders to balance innovation, investment, and operational costs to avoid raising prices.

Operational excellence means survival for manufacturers. Efficiency, productivity, and worker engagement are must-haves to navigate this increasingly challenging landscape. Yet, the tool that many manufacturers had relied on–automation–has failed to deliver on its promise.

For the last decade, digital transformation has carried the hope of manufacturers to usher in a new age of efficiency and productivity led by technological advances. However, big investments haven’t translated into big results. Despite the vast investment in fancy technology like MES, manufacturers still cannot implement it seamlessly into their existing operations and make the most use of it.

Often manufacturers find themselves in one of these two situations: Either no one or very few people in the organization know how to work the technology, or the systems they have are incapable of adapting to changes in the operations, either due to internal or external circumstances, and end up collecting dust in the corner of a back room. In both cases, it’s not just wasted money for the investment, it’s also wasted resources in implementation, lost efficiency, discouraged workers, and lost productivity.

These scenarios cannot happen in 2023. Manufacturers need a new framework that allows them to utilize the technological advances of the last decade and improve the agility of their operations. That means technologies that can adapt to changing needs and an empowered workforce augmented by technology to increase their productivity. The shift that we are looking for is from automation to augmentation.

Augmented lean is the management framework to future-proof your operations.

Augmented lean is a framework based on the actual needs of industrial operators. By focusing on the needs of manufacturing workers instead of chasing after the latest technological advances or operational metrics, augmented lean prevents manufacturers from falling into the pitfall of vanity projects and keeps their entire operations grounded on solving challenges that matter.

The plague of over-automation in the last decade was mainly due to the disconnection between technology buyers and those who will actually need to operate the system–frontline workers. It also showed us what truly is the most important asset of your company: your workers. The augmented lean framework focuses on building a system that answers to workers’ most critical pain points in daily operations and empowers workers to contribute to optimizing processes through direct communication.

With the augmented lean philosophy, the efficiency and productivity boost come not only from automating manual and repetitive tasks, but from truly augmenting your workers’ abilities and enabling them to perform meaningful jobs such as decision-making and innovation. Then, you can 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. In a world where the only certain thing is that everything can change within the hour, the ability to drive improvement continuously means you can future-proof your operations.

The other reason augmented lean will become critical to manufacturers in 2023 and beyond is its ability to guide innovation and digitization strategies. With the rapid commoditization of technology in recent years, digital tools are becoming cheaper and more accessible, and the digital landscape will only become more open to firms of all sizes and maturity levels. New exciting technologies will continue to rise, and companies will have more tools to solve any challenges. But resources are limited, and the question of which challenge to solve will be critical.

Augmented lean guides manufacturers to think in increments with tangible impacts on the production lines. By focusing on workers’ pain points as the north star of technology implementation, augmented lean ensures that manufacturers move nimbly, making the most of their existing infrastructure while building a flexible and agile system altogether.

About the book Augmented Lean: A Human-Centric Framework for Managing Frontline Operations

While augmented lean is still a new concept, companies have already seen success applying the framework to their operations and driving worker engagement, productivity, and efficiency. In their latest book Augmented Lean: A Human-Centric Framework for Managing Frontline Operations, Tulip’s CEO and Co-founder Natan Linder and futurist podcaster Trond Undheim studied the success stories of top firms such as DMG MORI, Johnson & Johnson, Dentsply, and Stanley Black & Decker in the implementation of the augmented lean framework. While the companies have unique situations and different implementation methods, they see in common an understanding that it is your workers, not your machines, that will drive progress and innovation and share a commitment to prioritizing workers over machines.

The Augmented Lean book details the key takeaways and important lessons from over a hundred hours of interviews with leaders in the manufacturing industry. The authors call for the abandonment of legacy industrial technology that is failing modern operations and hindering operational ​excellence and digital progress. Instead, manufacturers need to facilitate agile processes amongst a millennial ​workforce that already lives by many of its tenets.

Learn more about Augmented Lean: A Human-Centric Framework for Managing Frontline Operations here

In Augmented Lean, the authors provide a concrete playbook for manufacturers to augment their workforce with digital technologies, coupled with the organizational-, process-, and ​management-level techniques you need to get the most out of your employees. However, the book’s applications and relevance go beyond the manufacturing industry. As a management framework, augmented lean has the potential to transform any organization by changing the way we approach worker empowerment and enabling continuous improvement from the ground level of the operations.

Augmented Lean: A Human-Centric Framework for Managing Frontline Operations was released on October 19, 2022. Tulip hosted an evening with the authors Natan Linder and Trond Undheim, and Tulip’s customers and partners to celebrate the release of the new book. The event included a fireside chat, an open Q&A with the authors, a book signing, tours of the Tulip Experience Center, and a cocktail reception.

During the fireside chat, the authors answered questions from the audience about their inspiration for the books, the creation process, its implications on frontline operations, and their predictions of technological developments in manufacturing in the coming years. The audience was excited about the idea of marrying technology and human power to uplevel their operations and create an augmented lean organization. An event participant raised the question of how to overcome workers’ reluctance to take on creative tasks when they’re used to doing only manual tasks. To this, the authors responded by emphasizing the foundation of augmented lean, which is empowering instead of forcing, and it started with truly listening to the workers’ challenges and providing them with the tools needed to come up with creative solutions. This is the motivation for workers to move on from reliance on automation, they replied.

This emphasis on empowerment is echoed in Trond and Natan’s response to another question regarding future-proofing operations against economic uncertainties. Addressing the concerns over convincing management to adopt augmented lean at a time when every project is examined with extra scrutiny, the authors go back to the continuous improvements that augmented lean can bring about. Continuous improvements are the foundation of flexible operations, which will translate to resilience and agility for the organization.

Through the fireside chat, both Natan and Trond echoed their call from the book for a fundamental shift from a process-centric to a human-centric mindset to digital transformation. They agreed that this is the most critical step to prepare for the unpredictable economic situation of 2023 and beyond.

Here are some photos of the event.

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