May 17, 2020

Optimising the lean domino effect

lean sigma
Supply Chain
technology solution
Freddie Pierce
3 min
Domino effect
By Roy Shurling, President, Lectra North America In recent years, companies have been expanding lean concepts deeper and deeper into the supply chain...

By Roy Shurling, President, Lectra North America  

In recent years, companies have been expanding lean concepts deeper and deeper into the supply chain to protect margins and achieve more streamlined operations. Some companies and industries are further along than others, but this process has forced executives to objectively evaluate how they are delivering value to their customers. 

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Customer value encompasses all of the processes and people involved throughout the supply chain, from concept to product delivery. One of the most important areas in which a lean approach can make a considerable difference is the manufacturing process.

In fact, a lean manufacturing process can create a domino effect, driving efficiencies throughout the rest of the supply chain. And today’s technology is the cornerstone to accelerating the elimination of waste and costs, and staying competitive in today’s challenging economic landscape.

At the most basic level, the manufacturing process begins with two elements—product specifications and a due date. Before the production process even begins, a company needs to ensure the product is designed for manufacturing. Only after manufacturing constraints are taken into account at the product conceptualisation phase, will the product be designed in a way to ensure it can be produced according to time, cost and quality targets.

Technology is the glue that connects product design with production. Companies can use advanced software to test various scenarios to arrive at optimal product specifications. Armed with this information, executives will invest in the appropriate quantity of materials to avoid waste, choose the right suppliers, and organise production in line with business objectives.

Once a product is designed for manufacturing, a company must then have visibility over the entire manufacturing process—understanding where a product is at any given time and if proper protocol is being followed. Again, technology plays a major role in creating the platform to enable such visibility and collaboration among all departments involved.

Enhanced visibility helps companies identify where additional waste can be minimised or entirely eliminated, including waste related to process, materials and labour.

Technology brings automation into the equation. Automation increases flexibility, so that companies are able to shift jobs and perform different types of production runs, which is especially important as many industries move toward shorter production runs and just-in-time manufacturing to reduce excessive inventories.

Automation also reduces human error and defects, and minimises the set up time between production runs. Advanced machinery and technology are also designed to run continuously, which means maximised uptime.

One of our customers at Lectra is a leader in the automotive interiors market and maintains production in the United States. This company’s reputation is built on speed, quality, and responsiveness.

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It is crucial that their orders are turned around within 24 to 48 hours using the most efficient processes and the company has invested heavily in advanced cutting room technology and lean concepts in order to maintain their competitive edge in the market.

Understanding lean principles, and working with technology that applies those principles seamlessly in the cutting room, has increased their speed, capacity, and reduced both process and material waste.

Embodying lean principles can also have a trickledown effect on how suppliers are selected. Suppliers are now scrutinised on how they approach waste within their own organisations.

Moreover, the level of support they provide is crucial to avoiding downtime. This support can come in the form of predictive maintenance, which minimises the impact on production and Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF).

Profitability is becoming increasingly difficult to preserve and production challenges directly impact margins. Material overconsumption, non-quality costs, low process efficiency, excessive inventories, and machine downtime are just a few challenges that impact the production process on a daily basis.

Through advanced technology linked with lean thinking, companies can protect themselves against these circumstances by streamlining operations and reducing waste.


Lean manufacturers use technology to take their performance to the next level, improving quality and speed, reducing costs and ultimately, delivering greater customer value. 

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Jun 11, 2021

NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience

6 min
Joey Dean, Managing Director of healthcare consulting at NTT DATA Services, shares remodelling strategies for more resilient supply chains

Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.

The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.

A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach

“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.

“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.

But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?

“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.

Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes

So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry

“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality. 

“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”

Evolving Procurement Models 

From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view. 

“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.

“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”

“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”

But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?

“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.

The Challenges

These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.

On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.

Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”

He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”

As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”


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