Using Lean in Car Manufacturing to Cut the CO2 Footprint
By Jason Turgeon:
Edie.net, which bills itself as “Europe's largest environmental website,” for what it's worth, has a good article today on something it's calling a “5-day-car.” The focus of the article is purportedly green, talking about waste reduction and a reduced CO2 footprint through this exciting new 5-day method. But look under the hood (sorry, couldn't resist) and you'll find that this is a story that's really all about Lean.
An EU research project has concluded that it is possible to build cars to order within five days – dramatically cutting waste and emissions from transporting the goods. The Intelligent Logistics for Innovative Product Technologies (ILIPT) project involved 29 partners including BMW and the UK's University of Bath.
Sounds great, doesn't it? What's this wonderful new building method developed by this collaboration of auto manufacturers? Let's dig in
Traditionally, the body of a car is manufactured in a single steel shell, and set numbers are produced in a range of specifications. The ILIPT is examining how to build the car body from a number of standard, pre-formed modules that can be put together as soon as an order is placed.
Hmmm, standardized work? Sounds familiar to me. But the similarities to Lean don't stop there, as this next quote shows:
It has also developed a model that will allow the software systems of the dealership, manufacturer and part suppliers to work together seamlessly.
Wait, isn't that just one of the basic principles of Lean, the one about optimizing across organizations? Surely there's something that distinguishes this from Lean…
“Dr Glenn Parry, senior fellow at the University of Bath's School of Management and a core team leader at the ILIPT project, told edie the system would have many benefits. “To do it in five days, it has got to be local. We have got to start building the cars closers to the customer. It gives you an environmental benefit because you are not shipping large quantities of vehicles all over the world.”
Huh, a shorter supply line. Never heard that anywhere else. But yes, waste is bad for the environment, and there is a tremendous carbon footprint in shipping boats full of cars halfway around the world, so it's nice to see them mention the environmental benefits of this new Lean in sheep's clothing. Let's continue.
[Parry] said many manufacturers have billions tied up in stock awaiting sale that could instead be invested in clean technology. Dr Parry added: “If you are building to order, not holding vehicles in stock, you are also more inclined to change quickly.”
Better inventory management and flexible work methods also sound pretty Lean to me. So what's the catch? Well, for one thing, pretty much anyone can pick up the essential Lean techniques by doing some basic research online and reading some books, and while a more formal program of study might be recommended for someone who is really interested or who works with Lean for a living, I certainly don't think it's a prerequisite. On the other hand, the University can't go around telling people that a couple of years of formal education isn't entirely necessary to succeed in business, can it? It turns out the University is now offering something called an MSc in Innovation and Technology Management to teach people this wonderful new method.
My initial suspicion was that the consortium wanted to steer away from calling this new method “Lean” because of the strong ties to Toyota. It wouldn't look very good for BMW and its suppliers to broadcast to the world that they are going to be taking a lesson from their competition, would it? But according to the article, the “ILIPT's findings will shortly be published in a book entitled Build to Order – The Road to the Five-Day Car.” I have to wonder if we need another book about car manufacturing and Lean, especially if it doesn't sound like it will be crediting Lean as its inspiration.
Anyway, it's good to see that the environmental is picking up on some of the benefits of Lean, and if BMW starts manufacturing using Lean and cuts back on waste and unnecessary shipping, that would be a very good thing.