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Balancing Lean Operations, Human Innovation & Efficiency

January 15, 2017

On October 1, 1908, years before the term lean operations existed, came arguably the most important operational advancement in industrial history: the Model T Ford began rolling off of Ford’s assembly line.
By prioritizing efficiency in product fabrication over the costly hand-crafted models of years past, Henry Ford ushered in a new age of affordable, accessible automobiles that transformed manufacturing as we know it. As a manufacturer of precision glass and ceramic components that incorporates lean principles into the R&D process, IRD Glass is a true descendant of Ford. Albeit, we’ve made a few adjustments along to the way to satisfy our unique and demanding customer base.

In this blog you will read:

  • A brief history of lean operations
  • Some tips on how you can reduce waste and make the leap to lean
  • An introduction to cell-based manufacturing, a system that achieves both efficiency and creativity

Lean Operations: Then & Now

The Model T stood as the undisputed crown jewel of industrial philosophy until the dawn of the Toyota Production System, which distilled Ford’s ideas to a core set of values: a relentless focus on the details, data-driven refinement based on experimentation, and complete elimination of waste at every step of the process. This array of concepts is often referred to as “lean manufacturing,” a business method that seeks to establish the most valuable assets of a system by reducing all unnecessary factors — allowing the best to rise to the top.

Can you “Manufacture” Creativity?

For manufacturers, the appeal of this philosophy is self-evident. Who could argue for allocating resources to any use but the most demonstrably efficient one? However, attempting to apply this approach to knowledge-work can prove frustrating. Unlike industrial-line assembly, innovation is subjective and non-reproducible in laboratory settings. Just like an artist deciding what color will best create a painting’s desired mood, an engineer developing new product must use their uniquely human set of skills, expertise, and past knowledge to arrive at success.

Balancing Efficiency and Innovation

As owners and operators of a manufacturing business, industry professionals must work to balance efficiency (reducing waste, promoting output) with innovation (encouraging experimentation and outside-the-box thinking). Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to incorporate tried-and-true “lean” principles into the R&D process. Ensuring that all organizational knowledge is recorded and easily accessible spreads the benefit of past work into the future, creating a multi-pronged attack on thorny issues.

Waste Reduction

Additionally, knowledge-work by its very nature includes activities that are removed from the actual task of experimentation. Waste elimination is not simply a task of reducing physical byproducts: human resource systems that guide employees’ interactions can promote more efficient, productive collaboration across the board. One famous example from the Toyota model is encouraging each employee, from the C-suite executive to the floor worker, to ask themselves precisely why they are doing each task, and whether it is necessary — and to voice their concerns if the answer is unsatisfactory.

Making the Leap to Lean

In addition to the obvious operational benefits they bring, lean knowledge systems have also been shown to reduce employee frustration and turnover, increase response times, and generally heighten the quality and creativity of innovative solutions. Creating a lean operational structure is a matter of philosophical adjustment that takes months or years, not an overnight paradigm shift. But for businesses that are ready to commit to the model, the long-term results speak for themselves.

Creative and Efficient? It’s Possible with IRD Glass

As a manufacturer of precision glass and ceramic components with our own dearly-held manufacturing philosophy – cell-based manufacturing – we know a few things about balancing conflicting motivations.
Our cell-based manufacturing system achieves both creativity and efficiency with small, dedicated teams working on individual client projects. We achieve unmatched customization by giving our customers dedicated employees, dedicated equipment, and dedicated floor space at our facility. Each cell is responsible for the entire life cycle a precision ceramic component or precision glass component will experience. By delegating responsibilities to small, experienced teams, IRD Glass ensures efficiency at every stage of manufacturing – from raw material procurement to the final inspection. With this manufacturing process in place, IRD Glass has become a sole-source provider to both large and small corporations across the planet.