Pushing the Limits with MetroleanFebruary 1, 2009
I am offering a new word that would describe the marriage between lean-manufacturing practices and sensor-based mistake-proof manufacturing. The word that I am proposing is ‘metrolean.’ It derives from combining the words ‘mechatronics’ and ‘lean.’ A company or a process that encompasses the best practices of lean manufacturing while simultaneously integrating electronics within mechanical processes for mistake-proofing purposes (mechatronics) is a metrolean company.
In light of the current economic doldrums, I have decided to use this column throughout 2009 to showcase metrolean manufacturing companies and applications that push the limits of lean and mistake-proof manufacturing to achieve successful competitiveness. As we saw in January’s column, Pridgeon & Clay Co., Grand Rapids, MI, exemplifies such stratospheric levels of modern manufacturing philosophies and techniques.
Metrolean metalforming and assembly occurs in companies that have two fundamental core competencies: a professionally implemented lean methodology coupled with a mistake-proofing laboratory. As you tour these practitioners of metrolean, you are constantly amazed at how efficient, productive and profitable processes can be when permeated with strategic and specific lean methods patrolled with electronic sensors and controllers.
Poka yoke, or mistake proofing, is vastly enhanced when mistake-proofing fixtures are imbued with electronic proximity or photoelectric sensors. Human errors are detected and logged via a nearby computer. Not only do the fixtures prevent a badly made part from exiting the process, but the specific causes of the subpar part are documented within the personal computer for further analysis. If the poka yoke fixtures have analog (or measuring) electronic sensors, then the mistake-proofing process is elevated several notches as now actual part-quality dimensional-measurement data and not just go/no go determinations are generated.
I have seen first-hand companies that have maximized their lean-manufacturing cultures with advanced poka yoke fixtures. Production managers have at their disposal real-time data from the manufacturing floor reporting not only the number of good parts made per hour, but also the specific reasons for the generation of bad parts. Incorrectly assembled components as well as dimensional variations are detected, logged and reported. With such data, tweaking and fine adjustments of the lean processes can be scientifically made and justified.