Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Is it time to adopt lean manufacturing?

An increasing number of firms are suffering from the economic crisis and its aftermath. In order to be competitive in today’s manufacturing industry, it is practical to cut cost from every stage of manufacturing, so that many firms are trying to figure out a way to reduce waste at the most extent.

Lean manufacturing is a method of removing waste. Originally from Japan, lean manufacturing has its cultural stem in Japan. Facing limited natural resource, Japanese have to make best use of every unit of resource, so they are good at producing an economical solution. In fact, most East Asian countries have the tradition of frugality because of their economic conditions. It seems that frugality is not as highly appreciated in Western culture as it is in Asian culture.  That is one of the reasons that lean manufacturing comes from Japan instead of America, which has more developed auto-manufacturing industry. In my opinion, the lean manufacturing idea was initiated by marketing disadvantage but perfected by Japanese culture. If there were no economic crisis, the western market would not have adopted lean manufacturing. Though culturally conflicted, it is undeniable that lean manufacturing is an efficient way for modern manufacturing industry.

The idea of lean manufacturing might be inspired by the restaurant or food production. Just like what is stated in the article Latest Starbucks Buzzword:“Lean” Japanese Techniques, using lean method in Starbucks is really an effective way to reduce waste and improve customer satisfaction. Lean method is extremely suitable in the food production process. Saving of one drop of syrup, or reduction of one second from food preparation, could result in big efficiency improvement in total. Lean manufacturing is really a matter of details, and we need to calculate every step in the whole flow.

However, lean manufacturing does bring some ethical dilemma. Workers complain that employers are trying to exploit their last drop of sweat, just “turn workers into robots”. Although manufacturing is an industry that can be done by fixed patterns, creativity is still a necessary catalyst to bring the company to a higher stage.

In the “fast era”, every product can only be competitive when it is efficient. Companies like Dell want to minimize inventory and enhance their speed of turning raw materials into final products, thus some would choose lean manufacturing. But is it time to adopt lean methods? How to deal with the ethical issue? Is the organizational culture or societal culture supportive for lean methods? Mangers would want to consider thoroughly on those questions before making the decision. 

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