Future Shock: Lean Process Design in 2025

I usually find that no matter how brilliant and original an insight I think I might have, a Google search uncovers 32 websites, 12 companies, and 7 professional organizations already dedicated to that concept. In the not-so-distant past, finding those connections would have been difficult or impossible, and I never would have known. Today I can instantly douse my brilliance by opening a browser and typing in a few phrases. Or say “OK Google” into my (Andriod!) cell phone.

Things are Changing Fast

I mention this because I recently had the idea that the domain of “Lean Design”, work flow design for manufacturing, offices, or hospitals based on Lean principles, is about to undergo a huge transformation. The thought was triggered by Wired Magazine’s May 2016 cover story on The Quest to Create a New Kind of Reality, documenting the rapid development of Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality hardware and software. Mentioned in the article was the use of VR and MR for Engineering Design, including the comment, “A universal interface for working in VR would unleash the greatest expression of creativity the planet has yet seen.” Heady stuff, that had me thinking about how VR might be applied to the world of Mixed Model Line Design. We might call this Simulation Modeling 3.0. I pictured myself as one of the fund managers in the movie The Big Short, who had an early bead on the pending house market collapse.

Enter the Matrix

Imagine, for example, donning a VR helmet and entering a digital world where you can design entire manufacturing lines, including placement of material bins, location of tools, and optimization of ergonomic and lighting factors. Then, in this same “The Matrix” environment, you can run the line and audit it while observing simulation performance. You can test the proposed design completely in this digital world, in order to avoid having to make changes in the physical one, once the actual line is created and when changes are much more expensive. Car makers today are doing something similar. Click here to view a 2-minute video on how Ford is currently applying VR.

How do we do this now?

How far along are we in the use of VR technology for Lean Design? That’s a bit hard to know, but a Google search tells me that we’re much further along than we realize. Searching on specific terms like Lean Manufacturing AND Virtual Reality yields 30,000 hits. Try it yourself. Many of these links are about actual applications of VR. Here’s a great one, for example: 50 VR Technologies for Architecture and Engineering. One could easily spend an afternoon researching these connections.

So if VR-based design is coming at you like a freight train, how can you get started and take advantage of this sea-change right now? After all, computer-based Simulation Modeling has been around for several decades now, and off-the-shelf software can be had from dozens of vendors, but many (most?) Lean designers don’t use it. Make no mistake: Simulation Modeling is the first generation of VR. The challenge with these tools is this: the learning curve is too steep for most mere mortals to overcome easily. You need to put in your time, Malcolm Gadwell’s 10,000 hours, to master the current simulation software tools. Until now.

Getting Started with Simulation

In using simulation for Lean Design purposes, you do have an advantage. Most of the Value Streams that you’re probably interested in involve sequential processes that “flow”, like administrative procedures, assembly lines, material replenishment processes, and so on. It is possible to simplify the model-building effort and learning curve, by designing the tools around those objectives. Take a look at this video of an Excel-based simulation tool. It shows how a Mixed Model line design simulation can be easily created, and how the required data and the design of the model itself are combined, in a series of data-input worksheets. The learning curve is dramatically reduced.

Here’s the great opportunity: This Excel simulation software is being used as a teaching tool (and you get to keep it!) in our 3-day Mixed Model Simulation Workshop. The next workshop is on June 21-23 2016, and will be held in beautiful Genesee, Colorado. The goal (and this will happen) is to turn you into a Computer Simulation Super-User in three days, with software tools in hand. It will be taught by Celal Kaplan, one of the most experience Lean simulation experts in the world. You can find out more here, and register.

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