Skip to main content

The use of lean manufacturing systems has become commonplace in modern manufacturing. Lean manufacturing refers to eliminating waste, reducing costs, and improving production with finite resources. As a result, many manufacturers have deployed extensive process review and analysis programs to move towards a higher level of lean manufacturing. Yet, mobility is poised to make the most dramatic impact on the concept and use of lean production.

For manufacturers with existing lean production programs in place, mobility is comparable to the final piece of the puzzle. Since lean systems have already eliminated waste to a finite degree, the use of mobility can further increase cost savings and reduce demands on the system by making information and data available across a given enterprise. Take a look at how mobility in manufacturing empowers lean manufacturing systems.

Is Mobility a “New Solution” to Increasing the Effectiveness of Lean Manufacturing Systems?

Take a moment to think about the rise of the smartphone. To consumers, mobility is really a solution that has grown in the past decade. For manufacturers with lean manufacturing systems, mobility has been around for a while. Most modern manufacturing programs use RFID scanners, barcode scanners, and automated data capture for processing in the manufacturing control platform, asserts an Apriso blog post. This information is then available to the manufacturer’s employees. Ironically, this pre-date version of mobility in manufacturing is part of what grew lean manufacturing concepts in the first place. Now, modern mobile solutions, such as the smartphone, iPads, and tablets, are directly impacting how these existing lean manufacturing concepts are used, deployed, and increased in value and production capacity.

How Does Mobility Break Barriers to Lean Manufacturing Systems?

Lean manufacturing systems have many barriers, such as those explained by Motorola’s whitepaper, Mobility in Manufacturing: Achieve a New Level of Lead–a New Level of Profitability. Even with lean manufacturing systems in place, modern manufacturers are likely engaging in overproduction, suffering from increased waiting times in producing, shipping, and obtaining  payment for product,  inefficient transportation processes, inappropriate processing of information, repeated motions in the manufacturing settings, defects and poor quality, and maintaining unnecessary inventory.

Each of these problems is a barrier to a truly lean manufacturing systems. However, manufacturers need to think about what is driving these barriers and how a mobile solution can break through these barriers. Each process is typically the result of employees who are not currently or consistently able to work at a desktop location. Truck drivers cannot sit at the desk and deliver product, suppliers cannot process orders and pick products without leaving the desk, and quality assurance inspectors cannot review products without leaving the desk. The key barrier to each process is the need for data review and analysis of key performance indicators in a digital, portable, and connected setting.  Since mobility enables the same workers to perform their job duties on-location, which may be in the manufacturing center, at a supplier, at a distribution center, on the road, upon delivery, during invoicing, or during any other process, mobility can a break through each barrier.

Does Mobility Enhance Lean Manufacturing Tenants?

According to June Ruby of Industry Week, mobility in manufacturing is improving lean manufacturing systems and concepts in 10 ways. Similar to the aforementioned point of breaking through barriers, mobile solutions are helping manufacturers uncover more information about their processes, which leads back to a review of current processes and elimination of wasteful processes and inefficiencies.

For example, mobility in manufacturing solutions are enabling warehouses to reduce inventory costs. As product is brought into the warehouse for storage until the customer places an order, this represents a cost to the company. The cost is not fully realized until the incoming product leaves the facility, and the manufacturer can determine how much money was lost due to that product’s space requirements.

lean manufacturing systems mobility

By deploying mobile solutions in this setting, if the solutions stretch from warehouse to retailer, explains the Motorola whitepaper, Top 10 Mobile Solutions For Lean Manufacturing, the manufacturer and warehouse manager can determine how fast product will move and adjust inventory costs and levels to meet the natural flow of products, while reducing overhead cost of storing products.

In some cases, some products may have a given shelf life. Although typically applied to perishable, food items, shelf life may actually apply to any other product. Trends come and go. In electronics, the speed of increasing storage and processing doubles every year, and consumers want the latest trends and technologies, not last year’s technologies.

Mobility in manufacturing is further empowering lean manufacturing systems by increasing the product value for a finite supply of materials, tracking materials and increasing traceability through the suppliers, managing current assets and improving their workflows, reviewing products for quality, monitoring and analyzing labor costs and movement, increasing sales in the field, increasing the responsiveness and capabilities of field service technician, reducing costs and fleet management, and improving the efficiency and productivity of managers. These managers can then make decisions on the basis of data-driven capabilities and known variables within mobile applications in manufacturing.

What’s Next?

Manufacturers operate on a cycle, and modern manufacturers have used mobile solutions for much longer than what the public believes. In reality, today’s mobility solutions have changed and become more effective and cost-efficient. Therefore, many modern manufacturers are turning towards increased mobility to get the most “bang-per-buck” in lean manufacturing systems. In the future, improvements in mobile solutions will be the latest way to increase productivity, and the use of the smartphone will be a prerequisite. Essentially, manufacturers who avoid embracing mobility to increase lean manufacturing will probably fail to meet tomorrow’s demands.