“I’ve seen a lot of people begin the lean journey and six or 12 months into it they want to quit because they identify so many problems in the workplace and they conclude that before implementing lean they never had all these problems,” says Bob Arndt, vice president of distribution management for Ryder Supply Chain Solutions. “My answer is, yes you did, but you couldn’t see them. The goal is to make problems visible and then have a trained organization that learns how to solve the problems.”
Visibility is especially necessary when dealing with third parties, adds Sue Hutchinson, director of portfolio strategy for GS1 US, the automatic data collection standards making body. Having good, well formed visibility information based on standards is necessary for all parties to understand their supply chain the same way.
“If we start to add third-party logistics people and DCs and other people doing the handling, it’s very easy to lose sight of what’s happening once they pass the end of the manufacturing line,” Hutchinson says. “So if we can start to think about these standardized exchanges of visibility information it makes it easier for us to supplement the kinds of data we may already be gathering through that more controlled portion of our manufacturing process.”
As more companies look to open or expand markets outside the U.S., that adds to the number and combinations of players taking part in your lean philosophy. Typical supply chains are evolving, and this makes standards even more important. Industry must learn from industry so that best practices will spread.
“We saw a commitment from retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) to get the ball rolling with radio frequency identification (RFID),” Hutchinson adds. “Then the ball changed hands and we started to see some of the advances that were started with CPG and retail make their way into internal processes like asset management, material handling and work in process. Some of those best practices went on to inform some really large scale pilots that we were part of in 2008 and 2009 around some very large ports in Asia, Europe and the U.S.”
Lean and the standards that enable it are at a point where implementers can focus less on the technology and more on identifying the data most important to their businesses.