Is lean manufacturing a hoax?

Lean manufacturing principles may not be all they’re cracked up to be, with a new report showing the cost savings achieved across factories in 2010 were considerably lower than their targets.

Reuters has reported that US consulting firm AlixPartners found that only 30% of the 100 companies surveyed achieved a 2010 goal of cutting at least 5% of manufacturing costs by employing lean practices – such as those from Six Sigma.

Nearly half the respondents reportedly achieved savings of only 1 to 4%, falling short of their targets of 5% or more.

Further, nearly 60% of the executives surveyed do not expect to be able to sustain over the long term even half of the savings they made during 2010, says Reuters, suggesting the lean principles are costly in other ways.

According to AlixPartners, the problem could also be that many companies don’t commit to lean manufacturing in a way that will create results.

"Most companies don’t apply lean principles in a way that gives them the most potential bang for the buck," AlixPartners managing director Steve Maurer said in an interview with Reuters.

Maurer also said factories needed to set more aggressive targets in order to achieve the desired savings.

Lean manufacturing principles target waste in the process, and work towards eliminiating this cost. Often lean manufacturing is connected to reductions in environmental impact.

According to Karsten Hojberg, director of manufacturing solutions, Autodesk Australia & New Zealand, there are other ways to reduce cost in manufacturing businesses, that aren’t associated with known lean principles.

"The other way to reduce risk is to take advantage of the latest software technology. Businesses that use a design platform with digital prototyping capabilities can develop a single 3D model that evolves from concept through manufacturing," he said in an opinion piece about sustainability, published earlier this month by Manufacturers’ Monthly.

"The model allows the designer to evaluate opportunities to reduce environmental impact throughout the manufacturing process – for example, by reducing weld energy through optimisation of material thicknesses in an assembly."

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