German manufacturer MAN has been dipping its toes into the wonderful world of lean manufacturing.
At Munich, Germany-based MAN Nutzfahrzeuge—the 13-plant truck and bus manufacturing division of industrial giant MAN—two successful pilot implementations of lean manufacturing have seen lean techniques given the green light for group-wide rollout right across MAN.
Their first efforts were rather tentative, which is arguably not the best transformation path.
MAN Nutzfahrzeuge’s Nürnberg engine manufacture plant, employing 4,000 people, was selected as the test bed, with work starting in May 2007. The plan, explains [head of production systems Dr. Markus] Schnell, was to extend lean outwards—first within MAN Nutzfahrzeuge itself, and then elsewhere within the group—from proven pilot implementation "lighthouses" that would act as beacons to highlight the benefits of switching to lean techniques.
Two lighthouses served as initial test beds within the Nürnberg plant: a 100-employee component machining area producing cogwheels, and a 50-employee cylinder head assembly line, with implementation in each case taking three months.
The results were positive.
In the cogwheel production area, for example, work-in-progress fell by 74 percent, lead time by 70 percent, and typical set-up times by about 30 percent. On the cylinder head assembly line, work-in-progress fell by 56 percent while productivity increased by 20 percent.
So the go-ahead was given to deploy lean manufacturing across the rest of MAN’s operations. Sounds like a great story, right? Well… unfortunately potential trouble looms on the horizon.
Another related program will see lean thinking extended into other nonmanufacturing aspects of the business—notably purchasing and logistics, but also other administrative areas as well. It’s a development that will force the company to address the links between lean activities and the company’s SAP R/3 ERP system—links that are as yet unclear, says Schnell. “We’re aware that such integration is difficult, but we recognize that it has to be done,” he says. “During 2008, just how we are going to do it should become clearer.”
Ah yes, integration of lean with a large ERP system. I’m not picking on SAP, as similar problems exist with pretty much every major ERP software. Lean processes may not line up with the methods already programmed into the software. Even if considerable time and cost is expended to customize the software to accomodate specific company procedures and methods, it will not be able to easily accomodate changes in the future. And as we all know, lean is built on continual improvement and change.
Kudos to MAN for diving into lean with successful results, and good luck with with upcoming integration with SAP. You’ll need it.