5 ways To Advance Lean Manufacturing with Real-time Intelligence

Previously in a post titled: Using Real-time Intelligence to Enhance Lean Manufacturing, I wrote about how the necessary technology now exists, and is increasingly being used by manufacturers and their suppliers, to apply greater automation through the use of real-time information as part of a Lean manufacturing strategy. Interestingly, the full potential of the “The Toyota-Style Information System,” as Taiichi Ohno envisioned it, is finally being realized today.

Here are five specific ways this new-found real-time capability can be used to take Lean manufacturing to a new level:


  1. Leverage second order information – Dynamic data, such as the up-to-the-minute or up-to-the-second standard deviation, micro-trends and variability can now be used to trigger better actions and control processes (such as dynamic buffers, dynamic Kanban flow, real-time TOC). These data can of course be used to support Six-sigma improvement efforts and reduce DMIAC cycle time for projects, as well as to improve the accuracy of master data in planning systems (standard lead time, standard cost, etc).
  2. Extend in-process visibility/intelligence for enterprise operations decision support – This is different from typical batch-based business intelligence or after-the-fact analysis. Real-time in-process visibility enables prompt human decision-making, in effect putting executives in direct control of the manufacturing “steering wheel”. While executives do not need to know all the real-time details in operation, this capability is especially important when dealing with a critical event in the supply chain, such as during a natural disaster or an unplanned failure of a bottleneck machine.
  3. Enable pull process to supply chain partners and customers – Synchronization of suppliers and sales is key to Lean initiatives, even when most Lean improvement efforts are focused within the four walls of a production facility. Only by coordinating in real-time with outside upstream and downstream partners can manufacturers approach the full potential of Lean practices.
  4. Sustain Kaizen – Kaizen drives many small steps of change in the Lean journey. The effect of the small changes in shop floor layout, work sequence, equipment, methods, people and material can all now be captured and made available in real-time. This makes possible rapid measurement of Kaizen results and the bench-marking of operational KPIs across multiple facilities to reinforce common goals.
  5. Increase process and supply network flexibility – Real-time data, if coupled with the ability to act, opens up the possibility for new levels in process and supply network flexibility. Companies now have the information they need to make decisions about ramping up suppliers, switching processes and reconfiguring supply networks to meet changing conditions.


Harnessing real-time information in these ways is not just possible, it’s becoming more and more practical and cost-effective. In some industries, it’s becoming a financial and competitive imperative. Today is nearly 25 years after Taiichi Ohno’s seminal book, and we finally have the technologies to unleash the full potential of Lean methodology. This accomplishment was beyond the reach of its inventor, but it’s now within ours.

Are you using real-time access to manufacturing intelligence to support your Lean manufacturing across the enterprise? If so, I would be very interested to hear your stories in the comments below. If not, I would be equally interested in have a discussion to explain what is now truly possible!