"Lean Line" Call About Batch/Process Industries
If your PC can’t play the audio (or if your company blocks it), the question is:
“I work for a company in the paint and coatings industry and we’re undergoing a
[lean] conversion. I was wondering if you could talk about those in batch or
process industries. We have a lot of interia where I work and disbelief that
lean can really help us a lot. It’s believed it can only give us small, isolated
improvements. I’m wondering who out there, in an industry like ours, is proving
that is NOT the case. “
I don’t have any direct perspective on the process industry, but do you have some experiences or perspectives to share with Dan?
My train of thought for thinking through this, though, might be as follows:
- Rather than thinking about “implementing Lean,” think in terms of “we are solving these problems.”
- If “Lean can help” depends partly on how you define Lean. If people are defining Lean as a tool (such as kanban) or even the entire Lean toolbox, the same set of tools that might apply on an auto assembly line is different than in a chemical plant (or a hospital!). Someone might say “kanban can’t help us in this environment” and they may be right. If your biggest problem (going back to #1) is “equipment downtime,” maybe the right Lean tool is Total Productive Maintenance, not kanban.
- Better yet, think about Lean as the management system or the thought process. When problems occur, do you employ workarounds and “put the fire out” or do you also work wit the employees to find the root cause(s), employing countermeasures that help prevent the error from occurring? Are employees engaged in the process or are they merely “workers” who aren’t expected to think and contribute? I could go on and on… the 14 principles of The Toyota Way can apply very broadly… is the company making decisions that focus on the long-term, even at expense of the short-term? What about the other 13 principles?
Lean isn’t a magic silver bullet, nor is it easy to implement. But, it is a powerful methodology. If a hospital can make it work, why can’t a chemical factory? What thoughts do you have on this?
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