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Introduction to the Mini-Course

I’ve been actively working in the world of Lean Manufacturing for more than 25 years, and like so many things in life, we often are not aware of changes that take place when they evolve slowly over time. When I sat down and created a list of practices that have evolved in Material Management since the early 1990’s, I was surprised at how many had changed, some 180°. In this 10-part series I will be analyzing the “Top 10” list of Lean Material Management methods and practices that have evolved greatly, in a series of short articles and videos. I’ll describe the Original State (how they were practiced in the 1990’s), the Current State, and explain why this change happened. Here is a list of the topics I’ll be covering:

  1. The 2-Bin Kanban Method. This was, at least in the school of Lean that I was practicing, a staple, the default method for material delivery. While this approach is still alive and well, it is not the most common Kanban method. The reason for the shift may surprise you.
  2. Pulling from Overseas. The focus of a material pull system is on delivery based on usage within the plant, and more advanced companies are also “pulling” from outside suppliers. Communication with overseas supplies has typically been the domain of MRP and Purchase Orders, given the long lead-times and distances involved. Overseas material can be “pulled”, and we’ll be sharing a case history of how this done.
  3. Thinking of Material Handling as Waste. Of course, handling material does not change the form, fit or function of the product. There was in the past, however, the tendency to think of material handling as not valuable, and work that should be minimized as a form of waste. I’ll discuss how wrong-headed that idea is.
  4. How Much Inventory at the Point of Use? I remember the days when our rule of thumb for Point of Use material was to try to stock at least a day’s worth of usage for as many items as possible. As the complexity of products and the number of different models has increased, that target has gone way down.
  5. The Golden Key of Frequent Delivery Cycles. Hand-in-hand with the previous subject is the challenge of how to maintain low inventory levels at the Points of Use, without increasing the risk of running out of parts. Fortunately, there is a solution: frequent delivery cycles.
  6. Is Simulation Modeling Helpful? In the 1990’s simulation software did exist, but it was much less accessible. Today there are a lot of software options, but what are the pros and cons of using simulation to test a material delivery system?
  7. The New Kid in Town: JIT Kitting. Kitting used to be a bad word in Lean circles. Why add the non-value-adding work to kit parts when you can use Kanban? As the complexity of manufacturing grew, the space needed for Kanban bins also grew beyond the room available, and kitting became more prevalent. But guess what: not only did kits save space, but operators were more productive and quality went up! The trick is how to kit efficiently.
  8. How to Calculate Inventory Benefits. When you reduce inventory, that is clearly a benefit, but remember that inventory is an asset and not a cost. In this article and video, I’ll make sure that you get full credit for inventory reductions by calculating the benefits correctly.
  9. Advances in Conveyance Methods. If the trend has been to reduce Point of Use and Supermarket inventories, you might expect that the modes of conveyance have also changed (and you’d be right). We’ll review the state of the art for material transport inside the factory, and how this aligns with Lean Material Management methods.
  10. Inside the Mother Ship: A Visit to Toyota. All of the topics and methods that we will cover in this series are in full use at Toyota. In this final lesson I’ll take you on a tour of what I have seen in action on the shop floor of Toyota’s award-winning forklift plant.

There is a lot that could be said about each of these topics, but I will keep the articles and videos short, less than a 5-minute read or viewing. So stay tuned for our next discussion, on the evolution of the 2-bin Kanban method!