Lean has always looked for ways to create less waste, less inefficiency, less something. The fastest way to envision the future of manufacturing for your company is to look at every area of your business throughout the value-chain and add “-less.” This will simplify and transform your business into one where your unique value is more about the “what” you do and less about the “how of manufacturing.”
How to Think “-Less”
- Seam-less. Think about seam-less order entry, invoicing, and payment instead of what you see in your business today – manual transfers of data from customer POs to your order entry system, more manual transfers to production scheduling, and room for errors. Some days it might seem like the paperless society is still a myth when you look at your desk, but given that the volume of communication has increased exponentially, imagine if we were still doing it all with telex and faxes. Everything we need – email, ERP systems, and e-transfers – already exists to create a seamless and errorless front end and back end.
- Inventory-less. Think of every step of inbound and outbound logistics, with raw materials arriving at one end and finished goods leaving from the other. JIT aimed for “inventory-less” on the front end – has it happened? And what about the back end – do you still find yourself “making to inventory” or trying to reduce finished goods? What about all of the inventory handling and shipping that is actually waste – can you envision a “handling-less” and “shipping-less” future?
- Friction-less. Take a close look at customer service and evaluate how much of their time they spend adding value to your customers vs. fixing things after the fact that have gone wrong. Then imagine a friction-less end-to-end customer experience. Some firms are already renowned for this – what would it take for you to create that (and the corresponding competitive advantage vs. others in your industry?)
- Waste-less. In production, truly “waste-less” has been the same myth as paperless. When you look around your operations, do you still see waste, whether it’s reflected by too many parts, tools and work-in-progress, overflowing rework and scrap bins, or just a scruffy shop floor? What are the big shifts that need to happen to truly eliminate waste? Can you envision assembly-line-less, machine-less, robotics-less manufacturing?
Because it’s already happening. Additive manufacturing (3D printing) at or as close to the customer as possible is the transformation to “-less” that will forever change the way we think of manufacturing. It won’t happen immediately in every business… but it WILL happen. Those who get to that high ground first will dominate their markets because the focus will shift to ingenuity of creating solutions to customer problems and opportunities that will deliver just what they need, just when then need it, in the most efficient and waste-less manner possible. That’s the “more” that’s promised by “-less”, and our current view of manufacturing will need to change significantly in order to realize those gains, because your future may be “factory-less.”
If you’re behind on the Lean game, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – you may be able to pivot more quickly without going through the process of perfecting 19th and 20th century technology. If you’ve invested heavily in conventional Lean, you’ve already proven that you can move ahead of the times. Now, it’s time for the next big shift.
Many fear that additive manufacturing means “people-less” but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, ingenuity is a uniquely human skill that robotics and automation cannot replace – at least, not for the foreseeable future! The skill sets you’ll need will change, but the need for people won’t.
There are challenges to additive manufacturing today, whether it’s the cost of the raw materials and equipment, the time and cost of reengineering your products, redesigning your entire supply and distribution chain and making the right bets on technology and business model. None of us have all the right answers yet. However, Lean has provided great foundations for making business more efficient. Now, let’s make it more effective.
Your next transformation all begins with envisioning what “-less” will mean to your business and rising to the challenge of making it happen sooner rather than later. Are you up to the challenge? Just for fun, generate a list of “-less” words in your next meeting. Then see how they can be applied to your business.