Lean versus Agile Production

  • Lean versus Agile Production


    Lean versus Agile Production

    It was in 1989, that for the first time the world was introduced to the term ‘lean production’ as it was coined in by MIT. On the other hand, Agile Manufacturing can trace its origins in a research study by Lehigh University in the early 90s.

    Before discussing lean and agile, it’s important to place lean manufacturing in context with the traditional mass production principles. Lean

    manufacturing does away with many of the manufacturing principles, and guidelines of mass production. A brief comparison is tabled below:

    Mass production

    Lean Production

    Inventory Buffers Minimum Inventory
    Just in Case deliveries Just in time deliveries
    Acceptable Quality Level Perfect first time Quality
    Taylorism Worker Teams and Worker Involvement
    Maximum efficiency Flexible production systems
    If ain’t broke, don’t fix it Continuous improvement
    Minimum waste

    Adapted from Mikell P. Groover’s Automation, Production Systems, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 2nd Edition

    agile-manufacturingAlthough, tabled nearly at the same time as Lean Manufacturing, however, it is indeed Agile manufacturing which is far more relevant to the North American manufacturers today at the enterprise level, than the former. Reason is simple enough; today many North American manufacturers are primarily focused on producing customized solutions as per client specs and in small to medium sized batches. Today quantities as little as 500 to 1000 pieces of practically any product can be outsourced to offshore vendors with considerable cost advantage.

    It is important to remember that lean allows for waste free, efficient system that adds to the bottom line and in turn give competitive pricing advantage. However, most customers today come to local manufacturing facilities for their ability to quickly adapt to changes, better technical support, shorter time to market and most importantly, short production runs. Consequently, absolute focus on lean production may not be suitable for most local manufacturers and application of agile manufacturing principles on the enterprise level is important to maintain competitive against local and overseas competition.

    lean-manufacturingLean and agile principles complement each other, however, the scale at which they are applied are different. Lean principles are best applied at the factory or floor level where efficiency takes precedence of all except safety. On the other hand, agile principles are most suitable at the enterprise level where ability to adjust to changing internal and external factors is off utmost importance. The emphasis in lean is more on the technical and operational issues, while agile addresses the people and organizational issues.

    However, where there is a significant difference is how change management is performed under each system. Lean tries to minimize change, whether internal or external in order to minimize waste and increase efficiency. Whereas, agile embraces change. The idea is to thrive at the ever changing environment and business landscape.

    In fact, agile manufacturing should be seen as the natural extension and evolution of the lean principles.

    Four Principles of Lean Production and Agile Manufacturing

    Lean Production

    Agile Production

    Minimize Change Enrich the Customer
    Perfect first-time quality Cooperate to enhance competitiveness
    Flexible production lines Organize to master change
    Continuous improvement Leverage the impact of people and information

    Adapted from Mikell P. Groover’s Automation, Production Systems, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 2nd Edition

    Comparison of Lean Production and Agile Manufacturing Attributes

    Lean Production

    Agile Production

    Enhancement of Mass Production Break with mass production; emphasis on mass customization.
    Flexible production for product variety Greater flexibility for customized products
    Focus on factory operations Scope is enterprise wide
    Emphasis on supplier management Formation Virtual enterprises
    Emphasis on efficient use of resources Emphasis on thriving in environment marked by continuous unpredictable change
    Relies on smooth production schedule Acknowledgement and attempts to be responsive to change.

    Adapted from Mikell P. Groover’s Automation, Production Systems, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 2nd Edition

5 Comments for this entry

  • Nick, July 19th, 2011 on 2:10 am

    While Lean might have been introduced to the West by MIT in 1989, it existed in Japan for much, much longer. It’s origins in postwar manufacturing in 1939 mean it is a much more mature (read deeper and richer) culture than agile. And agile adds very little to Lean’s core philosophy IMHO.

  • Karthik, November 24th, 2011 on 7:22 am

    Right Nick, It was called Toyota Production System (TPS). That is the biggest gift to mankind….!!!

  • Conrad, March 25th, 2012 on 9:30 pm

    Did it ever occur to anyone that Toyota invented both Lean and Agile as separate strategies, to optimize the execution of it’s corporate strategy based on the industry segements it has chosen to compete in?

  • Ankita, April 9th, 2012 on 9:37 pm

    TPS contributed the most to the system, but it is also believed that Henry Ford introduced it sometime in 1900-1910 ( not sure) , definitely before TPS. It is also believed that Deming an american statistician visited Japan and helped the Japanese overcome the Great depression effect. However, TPS and Toyota has still been continuously improving the Lean Techniques :)
    I love Lean Philosophy and have already performed three projects in this subject and would also want to learn more ! =)

  • rahmat ali ind engrng, July 9th, 2012 on 10:26 am

    “one who has two days equal in accomplishment is is surely a loser.”

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