Monday, September 23, 2013

Boeing and Lean Manufacturing

Decades after Toyota released its “lean manufacturing” ideas, industries across the world look to their own production cycles to eliminate waste and increase cost savings.  An interesting industry that uses Toyota’s lean manufacturing techniques in Boeing.  They credit their Toyota executive consultants for their successes that include an airplane assembly line. 

“The 737 moving line in Renton moves at just two inches per minute, but the time is perfectly calibrated to allow employee teams — groups with colorful names like "Power Plants" and "Dog Pound" — to complete their tasks with parts, equipment and tool kits delivered at the point of use. Feeder lines contain temporary inventory, such as the seats that are loaded onto airplanes using an automated hay baler — a creative 757 employee-proposed solution.[1]

Two inches a minute! Automobiles already seemed like a large item to be made via an assembly line.  Attached here is a video of the Boeing assembly line.  It’s amazing to see the technology and man power required for production. 

Another way in which Boeing has been able to make their manufacturing projects leaner is by spreading lean principles and techniques to their suppliers. 

“…supplier costs are one of the more variable within a Lean supply chain. That's why Supplier Management organizations within Boeing business units actively help suppliers implement Lean practices such as value stream mapping and Accelerated Improvement Workshops that will, in turn, reduce costs passed along to Boeing.[2]

Not everyone at Boeing is thrilled about the leaner practices.  Workers are concerned that the more automated the process becomes; the less jobs will be available.  Others believe that this just gives them a production advantage over competitors making their jobs safer. [3]

A lean philosophy seems applicable beyond the scope of the private sector.  Public and nonprofit sectors could benefit exponentially from using the lean principles to improve services and cut unnecessary costs.  The results won’t create higher profits, but rather increase the amount of people served, expand the organizations mission, or other societal benefits.    The question then is how do we expand these lean practices into other experiences outside of the private sector?  Who has already done this successfully? 

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