Industry 4.0 and Lean Production

On the subject of lean production, the topic of Industry 4.0 has been added to the technical discussion for some time. It discusses a wide range: from “lean is replaced by Industry 4.0” on “goal is the deserted factory” to “you have to be lean first to make i 4.0,” are really all positions represented. We want to add our position in this post.

In a nutshell, lean production seeks to standardize and simplify – it’s about reducing or even eliminating waste. For this, humans have simple methods and tools at their disposal. People want their employees to create an environment in which they work productively and with the least possible mistakes.

Industry 4.0 also works to increase productivity, among other goals. However, the funds are chosen differently. This is about the use of (information) technology to increase productivity and reduce errors. Thus, Industry 4.0 is not borne by shop floor employees, but by specialists from other departments.

If these two short paragraphs outline our basic understanding, then one can derive some deductions that pragmatically combine both approaches in order to put together the best of both worlds for their own processes:

  • Reducing waste in the processes as much as possible is and remains an elementary task of an organization. Engaging the employees and training them in the methods is a sensible investment in the competitiveness of any company. The CIP workshop together with the staff remains the means of choice.
  • Making use of opportunities to improve productivity by using technology is also very useful. Through networking, the use of apps or the collection and analysis of data, there are new approaches to increasing productivity, which previously were simply not available when considering Lean Thinking. These possibilities should be used.
  • As for the order, “eliminate waste rather than automate it”. So first the process optimization in the direction of a low-waste process, then the mapping into or connection to information technology.
    The topic “data” will take on a much greater importance in the context of improvement processes than has been the case so far. Lean management has put on paper and pen. Industry 4.0 generates large volumes of digital data that must be prepared and interpreted. This will require management and staff to qualify.
  • In the discussion about Industry 4.0, the executive employee can be forgotten relatively quickly. However, even with the potential of new technologies, it is important to think of the process as an employee, to support it with what it needs, and to develop it together with it.
  • Both lean management and Industry 4.0 are a learning process for an organization. That’s why both apply: just start. Budgets for trials, pilot projects, lighthouses are sensibly invested money. What works is driven on, which does not work even after several iterations, you stop again.

If you stick to these six points, there is already a lot to be gained in the race for the productivity increase and the productivity culture that every leader in his area of responsibility would like so much to have. It is important to understand that Lean and Industry 4.0 are not either or, but that both parts can and should make their contribution to productivity. The coming together of what was not together in the past, namely lean and information technology, is a particular challenge for the managers involved and the prevailing cultures in the areas. We wish you a lot of fun to overcome these hurdles in your own mind.