Lean is a strategic development tool designed to improve efficiency and eliminate waste from manufacturing processes. Based on the Shingijutsu philosophy first used by Toyota's engineers, the ultimate goal of Lean is to change the whole strategy of product development by eliminating waste from the start and developing the most efficient way to manufacture a product.
At its core, the Lean process is about collaboration. It ensures that every skill needed to build a new product is in the room from the first day through product launch. As part of the process, GE's engineers, quality, production (hourly and salaried) and sourcing teams have abandoned the traditional tools of their trade, left their work spaces, and co-located in one work area - under the guidance of specially trained instructors, called senseis — to execute the (3P) strategy: production, preparation and process.
In addition to the high level of collaboration, 3P relies on the use of "hands-on" thinking techniques, such as full-scale equipment and product mock-ups, which allow the teams to identify problems early so that adjustments can be made quickly and inexpensively.
The cross-functional approach emphasized through Lean cuts product development time and involves all team members in the entire process — from design through production. The team is already seeing the benefits with dramatically simpler designs and more flexible equipment requirements. The simplicity and flexibility translates to lower manufacturing costs and higher overall quality, which is great for the customer and great for GE.
On the front end, the efficiencies created in the design and manufacturing processes save money in production by cutting out waste at all levels. These efficiencies also help improve quality, which helps minimize the need for repair and related costs after the products have been delivered to the customer.
At a minimum, Lean improves how we operate as a business by promoting a "One-Team" approach to problem solving. Fostering collaboration across functions and encouraging all employees to contribute is what makes GE the innovation leader, and innovation is ultimately what drives our success as a business.
To view a video on Lean manufacturing, click here.