What is lean manufacturing?

Lean Manufacturing is a management philosophy mostly derived from the Toyota Production System. John Krafcik first coined the term in his 1988 article, “Triumph of the Lean Production System,” based on his master’s thesis at the MIT Sloan School of Management. It can be summarized as a systematic method for waste minimization without sacrificing productivity.

Overhead view of Toyota's production line

While the key methodologies of the philosophy have endured the test of time, the way those methods are implemented is undergoing a digital transformation. The following quote from Edith Harmon, New Balance’s VP of Manufacturing Innovation, explains this growing adoption of “Digital Lean”:

“We had implemented lean, but it was still very manual. When we relied on humans to record workmanship on paper, data collection was a chore. You can collect data every hour for ten years, but that doesn’t mean you can use it. The data becomes paralyzing. It is hard to get your head around all that is happening in a factory. A lot of the data gets lost.”

As we will see in the examples below, embracing “Digital Lean” has several benefits over the traditional way of doing Continuous Improvement. The primary value comes from all the actionable data you can collect. In the past, you had to collect this information manually. Thanks to tools such as Tulip, this data can now be collected and integrated automatically from your devices, sensors, machines, and people, in real-time.

Below are five examples of no-code operations apps that our customers have built, on their own, using Tulip’s self-serve Frontline Operations Platform.

1. Digital Poka-Yoke

Poka-Yoke was invented by Shigeo Shingo when he was an industrial engineer at Toyota. The term can be translated from Japanese as “error proofing,” “mistake-proofing,” or “inadvertent error prevention.” The methodology seeks to prevent quality defects by introducing behavior-shaping constraints that avert operator mistakes. Initially, the term was Baka-Yoke (which means fool-proofing), but when a worker refused to use Baka-Yoke because it was offensive to her work, the name was changed to Poka-Yoke.

One of the most popular ways in which our customers digitally “mistake-proof” their processes is by using the Tulip PTL (pick-to-light) to guide operators pick/place up the correct parts from bins during an assembly process. As you can see in the video above, the bin with the right part lights up to ensure the operator picks up the correct part.

Another popular way in which our customers do Digital Poka-Yoke is by using sensors to provide real-time feedback to operators. For example, one Tulip customer made a prep-to-ship Tulip app that connects with a scale and automatically checks the weight of the package to be shipped. Since Tulip connects with their backend systems, the app knows what the expected weight of the box is, allowing it to check if the actual weight falls above or below the expected weight. If the box’s weight is not correct, the app guides operators through a ‘rework’ loop to ensure the right items are shipped to the right customers. This reduced the cost of returns considerably and increased their customer satisfaction levels.

Since Tulip lets you connect all your sensors, tools, and machines to the apps you create, in a plug-and-play manner, the possibilities of mistake-proofing your workflows are only limited by your imagination.

2. Digital 5S audit

5S is a methodology for organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment. The method derives from the five Japanese words seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke, whose transliteration starts with ‘S’ (hence, the name ‘5S’). These words mean:

  • Sort — Remove items that are not used frequently, get rid of clutter.
  • Set in order — Organize your workspace by giving a place for everything you need and by putting everything in place.
  • Shine — Clean and make the space such that workers can be proud to work there.
  • Standardize — Establish standards for order and cleanliness, including reserving time to clean workstations.
  • Sustain — Maintain standards through training, empowerment, commitment, and discipline.

Using Tulip, several customers have digitized their 5S inspections. Doing Digital 5S has several benefits. First, it helps standardize the methodology across your operation. Second, it allows your team to collect 5S data directly from the app without needing to transcribe it (they can even include pictures and videos of their findings). Lastly, it gives managers visibility into who is doing 5S and allows them to provide real-time feedback through the app.

3. Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis is a method for problem-solving used to identify the causes or faults of problems. A factor is considered the root cause of a problem if its removal prevents the problem from occurring. A causal factor, on the other hand, is one whose removal can improve the outcome but doesn’t eliminate the problem. If an issue arises in your manufacturing process, you want to make sure you solve its root cause. Otherwise, the problem will occur again in the future.

There are many techniques for doing Root Cause Analysis, and we’ve seen our customers taking the traditional tools (such as the one pictured on the left) and turning them into digital apps. For example, some of our customers used Tulip to build a “5 Whys” app. “5 Whys” is a technique used to find the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why” until the root cause is found. Each answer of the question forms the basis of the next question. The technique was formally developed by Taiichi Ohno and used at Toyota. In other companies, the method appears in different forms (3 whys, etc.). Using Tulip to digitize the process has several advantages. First, it collects data from the process and leaves a record of the reasoning used to find and solve the root cause of the problem. This data can be valuable in the future or for other team members as they look for improvement opportunities (they can prevent the cause from arising in the first place!). Second, it gives managers visibility into who is actively doing this type of Kaizen event and allows them to provide real-time feedback.

Another famous root cause analysis technique is Fishbone Diagrams. Also called cause-and-effect diagrams or Ishikawa Diagrams, they were invented by Kaoru Ishikawa a Japanese quality control expert. They are called Fishbone diagrams for their shape, with the “defect” shown as the fish’s head (facing to the right) and the causes extending to the left as fish bones. The ribs branch out of the backbone for major causes, with sub-branches for root causes, to as many levels as required.

Using Tulip, several customers have built Digital Fishbone Apps for their teams. Similar to the other cases in this post, the benefits of digitizing the process arise from ease of implementation, reduced training time for people using the app, and the manager visibility into operator work.

4. Visual Management

Visual management relies on the adage “what gets measured and displayed gets improved.” Doing lean the old-fashioned way means you need to have a person counting the events you are trying to measure, such as cycle times. Usually, this is done using a stopwatch, clipboard, pen, and paper. This is obviously a very time-consuming process and implies you will not be able to collect all the data you might need. Furthermore, unless that data is fed to a spreadsheet or similar software, it usually gets lost in paper data silos. This means that managers lack timely and historical data that could be very helpful in making continuous improvement decisions.

Tulip changes this by letting you turn all workflows into instrumented, data collecting, digital processes so that you can have actionable, real-time data of your operations. As part of our Analytics builder, we collect time study data that can be automatically created and grouped by value stream, by an associate, by date or in a more granular way by dividing the cycle time by step times in your process. Here is a sample chart generated by Tulip:

Tulip analytics graph step time by user

As you can see, the chart displays target cycle times and actual cycle times of all operators. This data gets automatically collected, so you have a continuous, real-time picture of your operations without having to manually count events. Using this information, you can identify high performers and propagate their tribal knowledge to increase the productivity of all operators. Moreover, you can locate under-performers and provide targeted feedback to get them back on track and see their improvements in real-time.

These dashboards are not only valuable for management. Several of our customers have used Tulip to create digital replacements of their shop floor whiteboards so that everyone on the floor has a picture of what is going on with production in real-time. According to one of our customers, this information instills a healthy dose of competitiveness among operators, which increases their engagement and productivity.

5. Digital Standardized Work

Standardized work is the process of documenting and standardizing tasks throughout the value stream by creating work instructions and standard operating procedures (SOPs). There are many benefits to standardized work, such as the increased effectiveness of cross-training, more consistent production, reduced product variability, and reduced training costs.

The traditional way of standardizing work relies on paper-based SOPs. The issue with these is that they end up gathering dust somewhere on the shop floor because operators don’t use them on a regular basis. They are not to blame — going back and forth between a paper guide and your assembly work can be time-consuming and counterproductive, especially if the SOP does not add value to the production process.

Using Tulip, our customers have turned their paper-based SOPs into smart, interactive, digital ones that add value to operators by empowering them to do a better job without having to change the way they work. Unlike “dumb” digital work instructions, these smart interactive work instructions connect with the devices the operators need and provide live feedback that reduces their mistakes and increases their productivity.

These are only some examples of how you can digitize your Lean methodologies using Tulip, but there are many more including Digital Andon, Digital SMED, and others which we’ll cover in future posts. Doing Digital Lean can help you implement new lean initiatives faster and improve your existing ones.

If you want to learn more about how Tulip can help you drive your continuous improvement efforts, get in touch!