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"Small and medium-sized enterprises have an invaluable advantage"

Karl Heinz Döppler, www.leanmagazin.de

How widespread is the lean philosophy in Germany? What are the biggest challenges when it comes to establishing lean principles? What trends are emerging in lean production? These are questions that Karl Heinz Döppler, publisher of LEANmagazin.de and Managing Director of Döppler.Team GmbH, can answer.

Hello Mr. Döppler, in your view, how well established is the lean philosophy in day-to-day industrial operations in Germany?

Karl Heinz Döppler: There is still a great deal of variation across different sectors and companies. The lean philosophy has of course spread out from automobile manufacturing to automotive suppliers and then on to the investment goods, chemical, food and medical technology sectors. It has even been discussed at some level in offices and organisations in the public and healthcare sectors. But, let me put it diplomatically – the lean philosophy certainly plays a part in day-to-day industrial operations in Germany, but there is still a great deal of variation when it comes to individual companies making full use of its potential.

Why does implementing the lean philosophy pay off for both large companies and SMEs?

Döppler: Basically, the size of a company has no bearing on the effectiveness of the lean philosophy. Take one of the primary goals – eliminating waste: there is waste in all companies of every size. My own view is that small and medium-sized enterprises have an invaluable advantage – they can adopt new structures and decision-making processes much faster, which means they can also roll out the lean philosophy much faster and on a much broader basis. 

What trends are currently emerging in lean production?

Döppler: I believe recent years have seen three primary developments emerge: 1. There has been a great deal of discussion in Germany – largely on an academic level – about the "Factory 4.0*" concept, and some have been asking "Lean or Factory 4.0?" For me though, Factory 4.0 is simply a logical progression of the lean philosophy, but using different means. 2. The second trend we can make out at the moment is that lean principles are spreading to every part of the value-added process (end-to-end) – sales, order acceptance, logistics, production, delivery, etc. All parties are being involved and, as a result, the lean philosophy is gaining ground in administrative areas and even spreading to suppliers. 3. One development we have identified, particularly during coaching activities for lean roll-out projects, is that the human factor has to play an ever bigger role. Viewing a lean roll-out as simply a reproduction of the “Toyota methods” is rather counterproductive.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for establishing lean production and lean management in companies?

Döppler: Unfortunately, when it comes to establishing lean principles, introducing specific methods – such as 5S – simply isn’t enough on its own. The lean philosophy is an all-encompassing management concept and requires all levels in a company to rethink how they do things. The biggest challenge is therefore the human factor. Most companies find it unbelievably difficult to get their people to turn their backs on ingrained approaches and processes, adopt a new understanding of management and learn to identify and communicate problems so that they can then be totally eradicated.

Are there other example besides the automobile industry where the philosophy has been implemented successfully?

Döppler: The lean philosophy has certainly taken business by storm – there is hardly any sector or industry that is not working to avoid waste on a systematic basis. Nevertheless, the automobile and automotive supplier industries are still a step ahead, not least because they have been working with the lean principles for longer. I have a big problem with the second part of your question. So let me ask a question of my own: What is a successful lean roll-out? There are currently very few examples of genuine "lean factories", i.e. companies that have implemented the lean philosophy throughout every aspect of their operations, from sales to dispatch and operational staff to the management board. And yet it doesn’t really matter whether a company has "finished" implementing lean "successfully". What actually counts is whether or not a company or organisation has adopted the lean approach and is learning to find its own – hopefully more waste-free – way forward. I would imagine that not even Toyota itself would claim to have finished implementing the lean philosophy. 

Thanks for talking to us Mr. Döppler.


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* Term: Factory 4.0:

"Factory 4.0 (the intelligent factory) is a forward-looking project launched by the German Federal Government that aims to promote the intelligent use of information technology in industry. The technological basis for the project is the Internet of Things. The aim is to increase productivity by up to 30 percent using intelligent components and assemblies and machines that communicate with each other and can organise themselves autonomously. Examples include smart energy meters and networked sensors and actuators, etc. Cyber Physical Systems (CPS) help to boost efficiency and can be used to deliver customer-specific requirements in real time."

Sources: www.production.de / www.fraunhofer.de



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