Lean Engineering - Is it out there?

I work for a large company that began the Lean journey 7 years ago. I often refer to our group as "Lean Toddlers" we take some steps forward then occasionally fall on our backsides.

Our Engineering group is not very interested in learning or applying Lean thinking. With a little (not enough) pressure from above they have assigned a Lean Leader but nothing is done. Their rally cry is that they can find no one who is affectively applying real Lean engineering. Except for Boeing, which we have not visited (because they are so disimilar to us, another good excuse) I have seen no group really making progress.

We make our own equipment for a unique industry. Does anyone know of a company out there applying lean thinking to their equipment design. DFMA is a start but the application of a good effort is relative to the FMEA facilitators lean knowledge.

I'm so tired of seeing million dollar pieces of equipment that work slower and require more maintenance than just placing a few folks on a manual line. Frustrated but always hopeful!

What is effective "Lean Engineering"? Having spent some time as a manufacturing engineering manager, I have struggled with this topic immensely. Like so many issues in the lean community, this question looks on the surface like a very simple question. Everything that I read on the subject however, feels very shallow in comparison to the depth of understanding I see in the realms of manufacturing and even things like finance. I have read 4 or 5 books on the subject of lean engineering and none of them hit the mark in my mind. All of them were recommended as being the definitive books on the subject but none of them rang true the way great lean books have in every other field. I have read books on healthcare, finance, manufacturing, HR, culture, and even dentistry that upon finishing said, "yep, they get it". I have not read a book on engineering where I felt the same way.

I'm not talking about Design for Manufacturing here. There are a ton of books on design that fall right in line with lean thinking but they all seem to be product design focused. I'm talking about what Rick is talking about, process design. There is nothing out there that strikes me as "getting it" when it comes to process design.

The closest to the mark is anything written about 3P. 3P is the answer and I think that anyone who has participated in 3P may have realized part of the problem with "Lean Engineering". The problem isn't a problem for most companies but it is a problem for a lot of people who got very difficult and expensive to obtain degrees (like myself). The problem is that lean engineering doesn't really require "engineers". Let me emphasize this differently before someone has a heart attack, it doesn't REQUIRE "engineers". In the traditional company with traditional engineering groups, any change to a process had to be completed by engineers. It was likely mandated that way with lengthy policies. Process design has traditionally been completely by a select group of individuals who were all part of a single group called "Engineering".

Along comes 3P and it says that process design should be done by the process owners. And it doesn't say that this means you should call the engineers the "owners of the process" either. It means the people actually doing the work should design the process. The implications of this are ENORMOUS. It doesn't mean that the engineers aren't useful, it just means that they aren't required.

When you say:

Our Engineering group is not very interested in learning or applying Lean thinking. With a little (not enough) pressure from above they have assigned a Lean Leader but nothing is done. Their rally cry is that they can find no one who is affectively applying real Lean engineering.


you are actually framing part of the root cause to the problem in your problem statement. When you ask an "Engineering group" to look for "Engineering group"s that are affectively applying REAL Lean engineering", they almost certainly can't. The problem is that they are going to look for other engineering groups and an engineering group is a part of the problem. "Real Lean Engineering" isn't occuring in engineering groups. It often doesn't even require engineers. In a "real" lean manufacturing group, the existence of an engineering group is not a forgone conclusion. I'm not saying "fire all of the engineers" by the way. I'm saying that there is a good chance that we all need to tear down the engineering silo completely.

I think that you will find good "Lean engineering" when you find it difficult to distinguish the engineers from everyone else. I always have a problem with any applications of lean that do not appear to be universal. When people tell me that their maintenance group is practicing "TPM", I immediately tell them, 'no they aren't". As long as it's your maintenance group practicing it, then it isn't the real deal. The same holds true of Lean Engineering. If you tell me that your process engineering group is applying lean principles, I am automatically going to be skeptical.

I have heard of a ton of great companies that have utilized engineers to do fantastic things but I never hear any of them talking about it in terms of Lean Engineering. They talk in terms of universal principles and methods of problem solving like going to the gemba, flow mapping, 8D, autonomation, one to one flow, A3, Root Cause Analysis, 4M, Statistical Analysis, Ishikawa, etc. These priniples and methods are practiced by everyone in the organization, not just by the engineering groups. Engineers are simply members of teams with different skills to support the problem solving. They don't go out trying to make groups of people lean. These companies make sure that they are developing all of their people to solve the problems plaguing them. They do this in cross functional teams where the title of the individuals are almost completely irrelevent.

At some level, the entire process is engineering. Industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, design engineering.

Production equipment design is a common activity in companies that are advanced.
The "Production Preparation Process" (3P) is a Shingijutsu-taught method for designing equipment, for example.

Hi Rick,

There are many companies that are applying Lean Engineering (usually called Lean Product Development), but I doubt if visitng them will light a fire under any group that doesn't really want to pursue it. I see a lot more success in development teams that downplay classic "lean" and instead focus on identifying and solving their own problems. Sure you can learn a lot from Toyota, Boeing, or Harley, but until your group internalizes that they have some problems and really wants to fix them (by creating their own solutions), then I doubt that any field trips will get them excited enough to change. Since it sounds like the rest of your company isn't fully engaged either, you should expect that you will have to do a lot more than get just Engineering on board to see changes in the overall equipment development process.

Feel free to contact me if you want to chat (585-315-7051) - I can probably link you with some lean engineering practitioners in different industries that could give you their perspectives on how they got to what they are doing with lean today (including equipment design). While not well-publicized, there are ways of applying lean concepts to not only the product development process, but also to the lean manufacturing system design process.

Brent

Whenever I hear about implementing Lean I think of improving process efficiencies by figuring out how to perform tasks more effectively while using less resources such as time, material, labor, space, etc. I think of Lean as an operational philosophy that's necessary because a company has customers they only buy products from companies that offer the best product variety, the fastest deliveries, highest quality, and competitive prices. And, there is always some competitor out there, domestic or foreign, that appears to have advantages in one or more of these areas.

So instead of pushing Lean with engineering as the flavor of the month, push efficiency improvement as being mandatory to become more competitive and for company survival. And tell engineering, "Oh, by the way, management will suport you. There are a set of efficiency improving tools and techniques that you can use to do an effective job in improving the efficiencies in your areas. They happen to be called Lean tools and Techniques."

Hello there,

Maybe related to your discussions on Lean in Engineering, we are seriously looking at two engineering techniques used in software developments named SCRUM and KANBAN, with obvious similarities with Lean techniques applied in production.
KANBAN: no surprise, limits the number of open tasks or mini-projects in a given area, avoiding the "WIP" overloading.
SCRUM: could be compared to a Kaizen event, when a well defined group of multidisciplinary people work none-stop during a short period (1 week maxi) around a medium-size engineering problem (could be part of a larger engineering effort) to end-up with a fully defined solution.
Limiting the engineering "wip", spliting big projects in smaller and more manageable tasks are two ways we consider to give more agility in our engineering.

I would appreciate your thoughts about thoses tools.

Best regards,
Bernard

It seems to me that there are many persons reporting about trying to introduce Lean in their companies or areas without sucess because of employee lack of interest. I suspect these incidences vary from trying to introduce the Lean philosophy throughout a total company to trying to introduce it into a single department such as manufacturing. These persons are essentially asking for help. It would seem that an approach to becomin Lean that has a reasonably high probability of success would be warmly received.

After thinking about why Lean programs haven't been successfull, I can't help but wonder if too much emphasis is being placed at the beginning of an introduction process on the word "Lean" as a new program that management wants to introduce, rather than emphasizing what managemen would like to see accomplished.

Perhaps the word Lean needs to be deemphasized since employee understanding of exactly what Lean is can vary all over the place. I remember from the many responses to a question I posted a while back on what is a universal definition of Lean, that answers varied all the way from the simple, "Elimination of waste" to, "I don't know but I'll recognize it when I see it". Some responded by saying they didn't believe there was a universal definition. I even reported that the American Production and Inventory Conrol Society"s (APICS) dictionary did not have a definition for the word Lean by itself but instead said, "See Lean Manufacturing".

I wonder if management shouldn't first identify to their employees what their company problems are, such as poor growth, low return on investment, not being able to meet competition, especially foreign competiton, too many dissatisfied customers, etc. and what the short and long term impact of these can be to customers, stockholders, and the employees themselves. Then identify to their employees what they (the employees) need to do to improve process efficiencies in their areas to achieve objecives such as reducing costs, satisfying customer's needs, wants, desires, demands, requirements or expectations, or becoming more competitive through innovative approaches, etc. It's not really important to introduce Lean at this point and can in fact complicate the situation in terms of indicating what it is management is really trying to do, improe process efficiencies or introduce something called a Lean program. Instead, challenge employees to come up with their own recommendations to mitigate or resolve inefficiency issues in their areas.

Once employees start to think along the lines of how to improve their processes to achieve some of the improvements they themselves deemed necessary, appropriate Lean tools and techniques can be introduced without emphasizing to the employees that they are going to be loaded down with a new flavor of the month program (Lean) also.

This approach is only a suggestion. I recognize that it leaves a lot of room for discussion since there are probably many-many ways for a company to get their employees - in all departments - interested in improving efficiencies. Different companies will have different approaches.

It would be beneficial to hear about some successs stories that others have achieved.

Bernard,

I've worked with SCRUM, Kanban, Agile, etc. in software and product development. Like Lean and Sigma, there are many flavors out there (usually defined by an outsider to the organization). A main thrust of these, however, is the management of tasks similar to production process steps. They can be effective if that is the real problem you need to solve. They can also be an absolute disaster if the overall development value stream is poor to begin with, or if tasks cannot be broken up that simply. Most of the organizations I've worked with on this ended up realizing that one overall methodology was inadequate for all the different types of projects and day-to-day work they needed to manage. It was also quite common to find:

- Loss of project or task purpose when tasks are broken into timeboxed pieces
- Loss of overall project progress because there is more focus on completing scrum tasks
- Certain development learning tasks do not take well to very short cycles
- Loss of quality when a task was too big for the scrum, but forced into it anyway
- Loss of capacity when a task was shorter than the scrum, and resources sat idle

There are lean hybrid methods that combine the discipline of these methodologies but eliminate most of the pitfalls. Most organizations do have development process overburden problems, but these are easily solved without adopting a completely different methodology.

I'm not trying to talk you out of these, but what specific problem(s) are you trying to solve with them? Adopting an outsider's complete methodology is technically and culturally very difficult - be prepared for some new problems along the way.

Brent

What is "Lean Engineering", when 'Lean' more applies to how to do thing than what is done?

Does lean equipment design mean designed for a specific purpose, not overdesigned or with excess capacity? designed to be run efficiently by as few people as possible? To find successful Lean Engineering, you need to define what you are looking for.

One issue that people working with Engineers have is not understanding them. 'Applying pressure' to assign a Lean Leader sounds futile. How can non-engineers go about designing a better Engineering process any more than non-production people can design a better production process (something many engineers need to learn)? All those who say it has to come from inside are right on, but a good Teacher will prove invaluable. One popular book (forgive my lack of reference) begins by saying all Lean concepts learned in production are applicable in the office or elsewhere, the trick is knowing how to translate to the process in question. And to Sam's point, don't call it Lean - call it faster, reliable, competitive.

So, like any other Lean endeavor, do the Lean things - go to where the problem really is, and really solve it (why do people buy expensive slow equipment? good salesmen?). Organize. Communicate. Set up design and design process standards. Be careful, you may actually wind up recommending a manual and not automated solution, which will not endear you to your stockholders - but the customers may come back when the real need exists (kind of like Miracle on 34th Street).


Easy? No way. They fired Santa Claus in the movie, didn't they? (hired him back later...).
.

Dan, I agree with your statement that for many people, Lean applies more to how things should be done than to what should be done. While there are exceptions of course, it seems too many companies hear about some of the potential benefits of implementing Lean, such as the poential for reducing product costs, and then, without really identifying specific needs or without analyzing their sales situation, decide to implement Lean as a solution ocost reductions.

I'm thinking of a particular situation in which a company's products are just not selling because they are no longer competitive, but yet the company feels it needs to reduce product costs in order to reduce the product's selling prices in order to gain more sales. Unfortunately customers are not interested in the obsolete products regardless of their price.

Sam Tomas

James, it sounds like a good approach. Your simulaion sounds interesting also. Can you describe it?

Message to your Engineering group: Rest assured that there are some of us out here who are happily applying Lean in Design Engineering efforts in company contexts far smaller than the Toyota's, Boeing's, and Harley Davidson's of the world. In our company, we in Design Engineering actually embraced Lean more quickly than the rest of our organization. Despite much fewer resources than the "big guys", we've found ways to improve our situation and see many more opportunities to get better.

It's impossible for us in this forum to know your context without "going and seeing" -- the problem could lie within company culture (e.g. a distrust of leadership, flavor of the month, push to get more out of less, poor vision of what the goal of engineering is & who it serves as customers, etc.), too lofty expecations of what "progress" is, lack of understanding of the Toyota Way and how it applies in an engineering world, or any host of other reasons. Regardless, there are too many ways to go into here explaining how it can work in engineering. But as others have offered, I'd be happy to share our story directly with you via WebEx or even a site visit if your folks are interested & think there is something to learn from our experience. We're far from where we'd like to be, but we're also far from where we were. Our journey of "changing our lives by changing our days" has been going on now for just over four years.

Yes this is a set of disciplines for product design and engineering.

Dr. Cho from the University of Kentucky can supprt train and represent new TPS based product design knowledge and learning.

In addtion there may be another advantage to his teaching.
Right Sized equipment. I will leave that one for you to research.

The disciplines involve coupling engineering with science (scientific thinking methods) and the spirit of KAIZEN thinking.

The disciplines are Kufu and Monozukuri.
There is information on the web regarding these disciplines.
I would advocate that you start your initial reaserch at Univeristy of Kentucky to learn more.

Respectfully,
Todd McCann

vol17_41[1]KUFU MONOZUKURI.pdf

Mathew, your analysis is excellent. I am curious about one thing however. What is your definition of Lean?

Sam Tomas

Lean engineering is definitely out there.

For product design we learned freom a consultant and multiple books; Ward's book is probably the best. There are lots of engineernig tools and concepts, just as there are for manufacturing and administration. However, some of the more important concepts are non-intuitive and in several cases are the reverse philosophy of manufacturing lean concepts. The key in lean engineering (for new products) is understanding that "learning" is what is created and flowed, not product designs.

Once new product concepts are mature enough to plan to manufacture, we use 2P (breakthrough cell design planning) and 3P (breakthrough machine/process design, also referred to as autonomation) processes and run them like Kaizen events. We typically reduce machine costs by >50% each iteration.

Again, there are lots of tools and concepts for new product and new process design. However, if your only exposure to lean is manufacturing tools then learning and implementing these processes on your own may be difficult because some of the major concepts are the reverse of the ones used in manufacturing. For new product design Ward's book is a good place to start.

Lean engineering is definitely out there.

For product design we learned freom a consultant and multiple books; Ward's book is probably the best. There are lots of engineernig tools and concepts, just as there are for manufacturing and administration. However, some of the more important concepts are non-intuitive and in several cases are the reverse philosophy of manufacturing lean concepts. The key in lean engineering (for new products) is understanding that "learning" is what is created and flowed, not product designs.

Once new product concepts are mature enough to plan to manufacture, we use 2P (breakthrough cell design planning) and 3P (breakthrough machine/process design, also referred to as autonomation) processes and run them like Kaizen events. We typically reduce machine costs by >50% each iteration.

Again, there are lots of tools and concepts for new product and new process design. However, if your only exposure to lean is manufacturing tools then learning and implementing these processes on your own may be difficult because some of the major concepts are the reverse of the ones used in manufacturing. For new product design Ward's book is a good place to start.

Has any one tried Lean Engineering in a process industry, such as chemicals, refining, paper? Most concepts about engineering seem to be focused on product engineering like Lean Engineering, Design for Manufacturing, etc. The design, construction, check-out, commissioning and startup of a new process is complex and time consuming.

Any ideas about how to apply lean to the process of engineering and construction of a new process unit?

Yes, there are people using applying lean to process engineering.

The value added in engineering is the creation and flow of knowledge and information, not simply the physical product/process.

Regardless of whether they're developing a product or a process, they'll be solving technical and logistical problems, performing experiments to generate new knowledge, balancing conflicting requirements and optimizing system performance.

The concepts of lean engineering are the same no matter what type of knowledge you're creating.



pc2

This is a great question, and a great topic, and gets right to the heart of how people (particularly Westerners) misunderstand "Lean".
[And there have been lots of great responses in this thread already.]

Lean is about every single employee, taking steps to improve their processes (any process they affect, even tangentially), every single day.
Lean does not exclude some "departments", nor does it exclude anyone at any level of the organization.

What people tend to get hung up on, are what we suppose to be the "Lean tools", and who is using which tools.
Lean tools are not "Lean".
Lean tools are one part of the **outcome** of Lean.
Lean tools are best practices, developed by firms who practice Lean.
Anyone who is looking to improve their own processes, is going to want to implement many of the "Lean tools", and other best practices, that are already out there.
But that is not necessarily true.
Lean may potentially lead its practitioners to reject any or all existing best practices, and develop their
own best practices and "tools", specific to their own circumstances.

Rick,
As always Lean is about the reduction of waste. You need to get the Engineering Group to understand what waste is in terms of the product and how they influence all the down stream activities. There are plenty of companies applying Lean design, not just Boeing and there are plenty of people how know how to create the right culture, you just have to ask for help. What you will need is leadership from inside your company. That's the problem.

Again - not talking about product design. Product design is a value stream unto itself and it is easily broken down the same way a manufacturing plant is broken down.

Maybe I'm dealing with a different set of assumptions than everyone else. Either that or I have had fairly unique experiences when it came to rolling out lean in relation to engineering. I am actually kind of shocked at how positive everyone's responses have been in this thread. When I read Rick's original question I thought it resonated pretty close to home. This quote in particular made me cringe:

I'm so tired of seeing million dollar pieces of equipment that work slower and require more maintenance than just placing a few folks on a manual line.


Yep. Been there...

First of all. Mark, right on as usual:

At some level, the entire process is engineering. Industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, design engineering.


I wasted a few thousand words trying to say the same thing. If you are doing lean, you are doing lean engineering. It's ALL engineering. So the question of, "lean engineering. Is it out there?" is pretty much settled with one sentence. If lean exists, then lean engineering exists.

The real question is: Is there a lean engineering group out there?

Upon reflection, I think the obvious answer is yes. There are definitely great lean companies with engineering groups out there. Given that everything in lean requires engineering, the engineering groups in those companies have to be following lean principles. And they are. They exist. So: Yes Virginia, lean engineering groups are real.

I think that the important part for an engineering group to understand is that it IS waste. The group is waste. The engineers are valuable (usually...). The very existence of the group will automatically create muri. It will create unnecessary and ridiculous burden on the value stream. In the best companies, the centralized group function of engineering is minimized dramatically. Strategy doesn't flow down through the engineering group it flows through the value stream. Objectives and accountability for engineers becomes more the function of value stream leadership and less the function of engineering leadership.

As an engineering manager, the best thing that I could do for my engineers is NOT tell them what to do. I have to help them to get the work done required of the value stream. In a world somewhat closer to ideal state, there is no such thing as an engineering manager. Engineers supporting the value stream may have a mentor to ensure his/her continued development but they would not manage them.

So lean engineering groups DO exist but the ones that "get it" realize that they only exist because they aren't good enough yet.

True.

But other than the hands-on, operations value adders, this is also the case for every organization, Quality, R&D, HR, Accounting, Finance, Senior Management.

And when a group does wander out of alignment with the value stream you can always trace it back to the greater organization's beliefs and behaviors that both allow and encourage the misalignment.



pc2

YES.

This is my point. All of the discussions about "leaning" any support groups has to start with a discussion of purpose. For my engineers, I synthesized that purpose down to two jobs and two jobs only:

1) Continuously decrease the time it takes for the value streams problems to become visible
2) Continuously improve the value streams ability to solve problems

The vast majority of what I hear when I hear about lean engineering groups skips this step. They just start right in talking about eliminating the waste in the engineering processes. That is often akin to automating a process before eliminating unnecessary waste. If the work they are doing isn't aligned and directly connected to the needs of the value stream, then all you are accomplishing is efficiently getting the wrong things done.

In my experience, when you are encountering situations like this one:

I'm so tired of seeing million dollar pieces of equipment that work slower and require more maintenance than just placing a few folks on a manual line.

it's not because you have inefficient engineering processes. It is because engineers are disjointed from the value stream and working in a vacuum. They likely have objectives that are not in line with the goals of the value stream.

If an engineer is given an unclear objective to do something like "modernize" or "automate" they will undoubtedly go down an unwanted path. Modernization and automation are tools of engineering, not objectives. Another objective that will unalign engineers from the value stream is a budget. If they have their own budget (capital budgets for instance), they will undoubtedly set out to spend it (and most will run over...). The worst example of poor objective alignment is when managers go to engineers and provide solutions. Every engineer should cringe everytime a manager gives them an assignment that starts with, "I saw the coolest thing at (insert competitor/sister company here...). We need to do the same thing." The objective to make the process like someone else may or may not be in alignment with real problems that are occuring in the value stream.

There are engineering groups that don't have these problems. They have existing organizations that have not suboptimized performance. They are the lucky ones.

For those of us thoroughly entrenched in silo management...I don't think it is even possible to solve the real issues without significant structural change from the top down in an organization. It can't simply be an organizational restructuring either. You have to weed out everything that will result in a regression to the mean. Policy changes, project approval systems, budgeting, etc. All of it has to cleansed. Corporate objectives have to change and significant role changes in leadership have to occur. These are systemic ingrained cultural artifacts. They aren't just going to go away. You can keep painting the pig and work on decreasing the lead time of projects, eliminate engineering wastes, and develop systems of visual management. It will make things look pretty and their will be resulting improvements but the underlying structure will still look, act, talk, and dance just like...a pig.

Kris, I don't necessarily disagree with you saying that Lean is waste. However, I prefer to look at Lean in what I believe is a more definitive way by saying that it should be defined more positively as "efficiency improvement" and not just "waste reduction". Why do we we want to become Lean? Not just to reduce waste, which is some cases may not have sufficient financial benefits to justify the effort, but instead, so we can make things faster, less expensively, more accurately, more responsively to demand, and doing a better job of satisfying customers than competitors are doing.

Companies can accomplish all this by being more efficient in everything they do from order entry, through manufacturing and to shipping their final products. That's where being Lean comes in, being more efficient than competitors in everything that needs to be done.

A Lean company, organization, department, process, etc, is essentially an efficient one. It does things better and faster than competition and therefore does a better job of satisfying customers. I don't believe eliminating waste by itself is adequate to accomplish this.

I recognize that definitions of Lean that people have play a big part in many of the discussions that take place in this Forum. Based on that, there are probably many other definitions people have to describe Lean. It will be interesting to hear what they are.

And as usual, that's one man's opinion.

My career began when I was a cooperative mechanical engineering student in a production engineering department for a large automotive company. The engineering manager promoted many of the ideas seen in Toyota today. His philosophy was that you were either adding value to the product/proces or helping those who add value to the product/process. The goals of each new program were clearly identified. During process design for the next model you were required to spend sufficient time on the shop floor understanding current problems from the production supervisors viewpoint and the viewpoint of the production workers, job setters, and skilled tradesmen.

Once the new process and or equipment design was complete it was shared witht he production department for comments. You we responsible for ensuring correct installation and could not leave the shop floor until the production supervisor(s) agreed that the job was completed and working.

I took that experience along with lots of other positive experiences to Toyota and did not have any conflict. Common sense in the former company worked well in Toyota.

Ron Turkett

To the original poster: yes, I have implemented Lean in an Engineering organization and it transformed the performance of the group. The organization was around 30 team members in a $300 million or so revenue organization. Contact me if you want more details.

[email protected]

Dear Rick,

Does anyone know of a company out there applying lean thinking to their equipment design? Yes.
There are many; large and small; niche products and volume products.
And there is Lean Training for Engineers that will teach them how to think in a lean product design manor.
If you are still seaching, please contact me directly.

Mark
[email protected]
 

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