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Car production up, but difficult months ahead – how lean will make you more flexible

by Chris Cooley

Today’s announcement that UK car production was up 29% for June 2010 against the same period last year is clearly continuing the good news of recent months. However, there was a word of caution that volumes could be changeable for the next few months, with possible reductions in the short term.

Car production line

UK car manufacturing

The message is clear and no surprise for anybody working within the automotive supply chain over the past few years, volumes will be volatile and there is an ever increasing need for automotive suppliers to respond to the changing OEM requirements.

To be able to do this companies need to be lean, flexible and dynamic – easy to say, not so easy to achieve.Implementing a cycle of continuous improvement will of course enable a company to remove waste in their processes and ultimately significantly improve their lead times. What is sometimes missed, but still important is the amount of knowledge and information a successful lean implementation gives you about your processes and the ability to design back-up plans for when the customer call fluctuates

Creating Flow

The key to creating flow is that you have established process stability, you understand the capability and capacity of each process you are linking and you have linked and balanced processes hopefully using one-piece flow.This gives you a significant amount of information and knowledge about your processes.The balancing of processes enables you to trial different scenarios and different volume levels.

This becomes your back-up plan and enables you to “switch” the processes when customer demand and therefore takt time changes.Think about what may change in the future when looking at the present.

Level Incrementally

“Heijunka” means to level or to smooth. Being able to level requires exact timing and the flexibility to be able to take uneven customer demand and being able to adapt your processes without creating waste and without letting the customer down.

Changeover times need to be understood and minimised, and then controlled and standardised. This enables you to be flexible when the customer demand peaks and troughs occur.

So levelling is not just about setting up heijunka and kanban’s, but is more about understanding what will make you more adaptable and implementing the necessary changes.

The Message

Creating a lean organisation is critical to being a successful organisation.

The flexibility that you achieve by following the journey and learning the lessons will make you lean, flexible and able to adapt to changing customer needs. For the automotive industry this will enable you to survive and then prosper in the uncertain times ahead.

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