Author: Paul Henriques in: Management

July 14, 2023

Lean Manufacturing Method vs Agile Manufacturing Method

There is a method to work. It is an always evolving logic that varies from work type to work type with the goal always being improving profit through higher productivity/ efficiency. In recent years, one of the leading methods for manufacturing work has been Lean. However, ongoing changes to the global supply chain have some questioning the capabilities of Lean to properly handle the modern manufacturing reality, namely those that require more rapid responses to their market forces.

Their answer is to bring in the most commonly used work methodology from software: Agile. With issues continuing in the supply chain and the ever-growing need for more customized items from consumers, many Agile supporters firmly believe that this is the best way forward for manufacturers.

The Evolution of the Method

Since the beginning of work, people have studied how it can be done better, faster, and with less errors. The ongoing development of ideas eventually led to Dr. Deming’s 14 key principles, which led to TPS, TQM, and other less known quality and work management methods. The evolution of these, in turn, led to Six Sigma and Lean.

All these management techniques revolve around the matter of creating a culture of accountability and innovation, which leads to an active workforce that is engaged in self improvement, process improvement, and quality improvement. And these improvements lead to happier customers, better productivity, and a safer workplace.

The Lean Method

Of the many methods that have been created, Lean has seen the greatest number of implementations in recent years. With its focus on eliminating waste by targeting DOWNTIME, it works well to improve process efficiency and efficacy by targeting steps that add value to the customer and reducing inventory, wait times, and material usage. It takes a steady hand to understand the important matters to action but any company that properly implements Lean has seen an improvement to their customer satisfaction and their profits.

Lean Manufacturing is more suited to mass production, where your:

  • Production is standardized
  • Demand is stable
  • Supply chain is reliable
  • Material is delivered just-in-time
DOWNTIME

Lean Principles

The Lean method involves a systematic approach to cutting waste, which improves the tasks and processes that add value for your customer. It is an evolution to the Toyota Production System (TPS) and has since been widely adopted across numerous industries. The simplicity and obvious nature of Lean helped it become one of the most used manufacturing production methods in use today.

One of the benefits of Lean is that regardless of how much data and analysis you conduct in your shop, it can be implemented quite effectively since it primarily relies on a simple problem-solving technique.

The key Lean principles include:

  • Identify Value: Identify the tasks / processes that the customer (internal or external) values.
  • Map the Process: Create a business process map of the task/process. Determine the value-add and non-value-add steps in the process.
  • Cut Waste: Review the map and eliminate waste any across the process.
  • Create Flow: Remove any step in the process that does not add value unless it is required (like a safety process or a regulatory task) so that the process flows smoothly with minimal interruptions, bottlenecks, and delays.
  • Establish Pull: Implement a system where work is initiated based on customer demand.
  • Continuously Improve: Encourage employees at all levels to identify problems, suggest improvements, and participate in problem-solving activities.
  • Standardize Processes: As process flow is improved, standardize that work process with documented best practices to ensure consistency, quality, and repeatability.

By improving your processes with Lean, your shop will improve quality, customer satisfaction, competitiveness, productivity, and profit.

While Lean has been one of the greatest tools of recent times to help manufacturers maintain their competitive edge, there is a new method that is capturing the attention of certain segments of manufacturing that require more flexibility and responsiveness.

The Agile Method

The IT industry, with it’s focus on moving fast and breaking stuff, created its own work methodology that focuses on flexibility, responsiveness, and adaptability. Because customer demands change quickly in today’s global market, some manufacturers that need that quickness have adopted Agile and tailored it to the manufacturing sector with Agile Manufacturing. Shops that adopt the Agile Manufacturing methodology can make faster changes to their processes, their suppliers, and their resources in a way that delivers added value to their customers at a faster pace. To summarize: Agile Manufacturing can help shops capture new opportunities as they arise.

Agile Manufacturing is more suited to discrete production, where your:

  • Client orders require constant customization
  • Product development and life cycle is short
  • Demand is uncertain or seasonal
  • Supply chain is uncertain or varied
Agile Method

Agile Principles

Since 2020 more and more manufacturers have looked into adopting some of the quick and nimble features of Agile Manufacturing into their production process. This has enabled these shops to have a faster reply to changing customer demand and supply chain issues.

In a way, the key principles of Lean also apply to Agile. However, Agile adds:

  • Customer-Centric: Agile focuses on understanding the customers needs and preferences, while monitoring market trends to deliver products and services that meet customer expectations.
  • Quick: Agile manufacturing emphasizes speed. This means shorter lead times, faster time-to-market, and quickly adapting to emerging opportunities.
  • Flexible: Agile shops are quick to adapt to new demand or supply issues with flexible manufacturing cells, modular production systems, and agile production planning. This means it is not a recommended method for corporations with large production functions that cannot be easily moved.
  • Collaborative: Agile encourages you to improve communication and collaboration between your business units, teams, and suppliers. Sharing information and collaborating on ideas is essential for synchronizing activities and responding to changes in demand or supply.
  • Incremental: In Agile, you break down a project into smaller increments and focus on quickly developing that part with regular customer feedback so you can continuously improve the product throughout the development process.

As mentioned, Agile Manufacturing comes with many benefits, including: better flexibility, faster time-to-market, a more innovative mindset, improved customer satisfaction, and better resource usage. This makes it a valuable approach for shops that want to thrive in a rapidly changing competitive landscape.

Conclusion

Choosing to switch your manufacturing production method can be a difficult and costly process. The goal of any methodology is to help you organize your firm and improve your processes, operations, efficiency, and quality while meeting your customer demands. You may be concerned about which method works best for you. Selecting to switch between Agile or Lean should be dependent on your business factors and how the strengths and weaknesses of either method affect you, such as your type of industry and customer, your market, and your organizational goals. In this case, you can have more than one thing. You can use TQM + Lean + Agile, etc. to ensure you are meeting all your needs. Combining and customizing multiple approaches in a way that works best for you is not only allowed but recommended.

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