The Benefits of using DFM/A Up-front to Improve Production when Combined with Lean Manufacturing Process

In a consumer driven market, fast is more than just a word. The meaning of the word has been shaped by industries of its association. To keep up with the aggressive demand, Toyota established Toyota Production System (TPS) in the late 50’s. Often dubbed as Lean Manufacturing, the origin of a TPS-like environment can be traced back to Ford, a company which swore by standardization. Standardizing parts would result in standardized processes. Ford’s mantra helped the automobile giant produce in large scale within an anticipated time frame at a lower cost. With standardization, other aspects like skill based training, identifying and defining job roles, optimization of supply chain management etc. fell into place. An automated assembly line further added to the benefits of (yet to be established) lean manufacturing.

Toyota picked up right from where Ford left. With minor tweaks (with major impacts) Toyota substituted the push technology with pull technology. Production were now to be inventory centric than demand centric. This addressed a major concern faced by Lean practitioners from earlier days- overproduction in the era of heterogeneous customer demand.

With the establishment of the backbone of the manufacturing industry, the production model has fast evolved and customized by leaders in the domain. Improvement is the key to the fast moving market and this knowledge has driven Ford to establish Ford Production System (FPS), thereby establishing a manufacturing standard. Room for improvement makes Ford Production System (FPS) a one of a kind manufacturing system. Continuous Improvement Board, Support Process, Start+up Confirmation, Kaizen etc. are a few major FPS continuous models.

The benefits of Lean manufacturing though initially limited to automobile was soon reaped by fast fashion retail giants such as Zara, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), United Colors of Benetton and the like, each contributing to the system. Unlike the automobile industry, apparel industry had to set short term goals (anticipating seasonal demands), ensuring on-time production with minimal wastage. Over the years, industries as varied as automobile and fashion have shaped lean manufacturing process.

But is leaning on Lean sufficient?

The lure of Lean is such that other aspects like absence of calculated focus, time involved in establishing the entire system, failing to take real-life-everyday problems into consideration or user specific problems etc. is often overlooked only to be regretted later.

An integral stepping stone to Lean is Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA). Given the heterogeneous nature of bodies to be manufactured, DFMA volunteers where Lean by itself struggles to benefit.

Why should they be treated separately?

While Lean stresses on expeditious setup for flexible and quick ways to meet the fast demands of customers, design for manufacture and assembly foresees problems caused in case of multitude parts which often hampers extensive quick-substitution.

Design for Assembly (DFA) stresses on minimal parts making extensive quick-substitution ‘quick’ and ‘easy’. While swapping is essential but it often fails to serve its purpose completely. Substitution of one minute part usually requires an entire production unit in action. DFM, DFA and Lean together can address this seemingly small problem. Lean usually has a library of best alternates which can be tooled and machined without one having to invest additional setting up time. In this case, DFM/DFA go a step ahead and focus on easy to assemble parts, designs with multiple tolerances etc. It also considers the entire manufacturing process at the time of selection of part material.

A win win combination

A software like DFMPro first analyses a part design for manufacturability and then computes the manufacturing cost. This in turn simplifies manufactured parts and alternatively, proposes design changes for ease of assembly. As the parts prior to manufacture are checked for manufacturability, nominal wastage is guaranteed.

Considering design before manufacturing is always a smart way of production. Lean, DFM and DFA do just that!

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