A COMPARISON OF LEAN MANAGEMENT IN THE AUTOMOTIVE AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS SECTORS
Dipl. Ing. Martin Greiner
PhD. student at the Faculty of Management Comenius University in Bratislava
The purpose of this article is to appraise recent innovations in the application of lean management principles in the telecommunications and automotive sectors. It commences with an overview of the meaning and processes associated with lean management, then reviews innovative employment of its principles to drive up operational efficiency within the two sectors.
Lean Management Principles
The origins of Lean Management are attributed to Toyota, and also referred to as lean manufacturing and lean production, owing to its manufacturing origins. However, the principles of lean have been applied to many other industrial sectors (Miliani, 2006) and Antony (2011) refers to lean thinking as the fundamental requirement to accomplish its objectives. The term lean is associated with efficiency regarding production of products/services, as quickly as possible and at minimum cost. In order to apply this principle to any process, it must be broken down into its constituent parts, value-added and non-value added activities identified, and then the manner in which waste can be eliminated from all the value-added parts must be established (Antony, 2011). In contrast, Manville et al. (2012) refer to the non-value added parts as the waste inherent in the process, which is eradicated leaving solely value-added elements within it. In terms of manufacturing, strategies would therefore be devised to reduce lead times, minimise stock levels, lower machine set up times and diminish reworking of components, eliminate as much scrap material as possible and ensure that equipment was working to full capacity, as far as possible (Antony, 2011). However Teich and Fadoul (2013) suggest five stages to the process, with the most important factor for success being to identify what the customer considers as value. Toyota moved its original emphasis on accomplishing value internally from the production process, to an external focus on how to create value for the end-used by adding product and/or service features, whilst simultaneously eliminating waste; this change indicated considerable attention to maximising competitive advantage (Gronroos, 2008).
The techniques used by Ford relate to lean thinking (Anthony, 2011) and Toyota’s principles of focus on consumer expectations/perception since, from inception, such principles are applied by using advanced technologies: 3D printing, gaming technology and 3D technology.
3D printing technology is employed to design and to test digital vehicle prototypes, at minimum cost, and many times faster than the older technique of building a physical model. The virtual print is converted to tangible full objects, one layer at a time and therefore tests components, for instance engine cylinders and brake rollers. The technology drives the generation of more creative ideas, since any individual can use it and then test the idea to determine its feasibility, leading to innovative new features and vehicle design (Phillips, 2014).
A virtual model of the proposed car can be tested for quality of design and styling by using gaming technology, examining the vehicle carefully by effectively walking around it and physically touching the virtual car (Allison, 2015) and looking inside it. The same process can be employed collaboratively in different countries and feedback generated to enhance the final product; the focus is on the consumer perception of the model, and on creating optimum design quickly and cost effectively, before any actual manufacture is planned (Phillips 2014).
In terms of the factory environment, advanced 3D technology is used to simulate the manufacturing process and hence design the assembly lines so that production is as efficient as possible, whilst ensuring maximum worker health and safety. A process that took months to accomplish in the past can be accomplished in days, hence the period from design to market is much reduced (Phillips, 2014), which is crucial in a fiercely competitive industry, in which product lifecycles are increasingly shorter, and profits must be generated quickly to recoup development costs (Porter, 2008); the once high cost of using virtual reality has declined significantly (Allison, 2015) inferring that the design and manufacturing process has become even leaner. In the case of Ford, it also appears that the previous perceived conflict between lean management and innovation has been eliminated; while lean focused on cost and speed, innovation required the capacity to devise and try out new ideas, which could be time consuming and costly (Chen and Taylor, 2009). The strategies taken by Ford are referred to as ground breaking by Allison (2015), who states the auto manufacturer has successfully merged the physical and virtual worlds, and that the Company has admitted that is most recent vehicle would have had several undetected mistakes, which would have been costly to rectify, without use of the technique.