For example, we recently visited a large facility of a technically advanced firm where a race was being conducted between the rising yen and the elimination of expensive human effort. The process villages molding, cut ting, and painting parts for the plant's complex product were entirely auto mated, with robots neatly stacking the parts emerging from various fabrication steps on pallets to be taken by automated guided vehicles to an automated storage and retrieval center. From there, in-house parts and those received from vendors were taken automatically to a completely auto mated final assembly line which could instantly adjust its fixtures to hold any of the one hundred models of the basic product and assemble it solely through the efforts of pick-and-place robots. (The plant still employed 3,600, but none was involved in direct labor.) The facility exported 50 per cent of its 7.5 million units of output and supplied one sixth of world demand for its product from one final assembly line in one room. For the future, this company is looking to China as a source of cheap subcompo nents, currently supplied by local first-tier suppliers.
•.'IT 244 LEAN THINKING .:,I . ,1 '., I t i s o b v i o u s l y p o s s i b l e t o c b mbine lean techniques with high-tech mass production. For example, the firm we have just cited applies the concepts of Total Productive Maintenance (another idea originating in the Toyota Group, at Nippondenso) and self-managed work teams (consisting only of technical support staff because there are no direct workers) to its fully automated production system. However, there is a fundamental problem with the strategy in most applications, notably that it is a classic case of optimizing one tiny portion of the value stream while ignoring the costs and inconvenience to customers created elsewhere. To achieve the scale needed to justify this degree of automation it will often be necessary to serve the entire world from a single facility, yet cus tomers want to get exactly the product they want exactly when they want it. This is generally immediately. It follows that oceans and lean production are not compatible. We believe that, in almost every case, locating smaller and less-automated production systems within the market of sale will yield lower total costs (counting logistics and the cost of scrapped goods no one wants by the time they arrive) and higher customer satisfaction. When one looks at smaller Japanese companies, like Showa, the record is more mixed with many still essentially batch producers. (Showa formed a self-help group with ten other firms in the Fukuoka area in the late l 980s and many of these firms have made dramatic progress in applying lean techniques, but many other nearby firms have continued along their tradi tional path.) And the farther one travels from the manufacture of discrete products the more Japanese practice looks similar to (or even inferior to) practices else where in the world. To take an important example: Distribution is still
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- Spring '17
- Dr. M. James Allen, BA, MBA, PH.D.
- Lean thinking, Lean software development, lean production, value stream, Lean Enterprise