Get the skinny on lean

Posted on 01. Sep, 2010 by in Academic Departments, Annual Report, Economic Impact, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Issues

After 10 years of working with various manufacturing firms, Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Leyuan Shi has produced a software tool that will help manufacturers implement quantitative management strategies for significant results.

Shi, an optimization expert, says quantitative management is about matching tasks, such as custom orders, with available resources, such as idle machines. She has created a framework to do this complex matching, and the principles of that framework make up the backbone of the new tool.

“Helping manufacturers be competitive is very important, as our manufacturing philosophy needs to be reinvented,” Shi says. “This tool will help tremendously in making our manufacturers more efficient and profitable.”

Efficiently matching tasks and resources eliminates waste, the goal of a business strategy known as lean manufacturing. “When people start talking about implementing lean, they usually only consider qualitatively applying the general concept to a particular part of their operations,” Shi says. “By collaborating with several different manufacturing firms over the years to use my optimization framework theory, we’ve created a ready-to-use tool for systematically achieving lean production throughout a company’s entire operations.”

The tool is composed of a user-friendly interface connected to a remote scheduling-optimization server. Companies purchase subscriptions to automatically upload real-time operational information and create and optimize schedules. The tool is affordable since businesses don’t have to purchase any expensive software or hardware, and Shi is able to keep track of how the tool is working in various settings and continually tune it for
better performance in the client’s factories.

Currently, three manufacturers are using the tool, and Shi is piloting it with several clients of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
Early results from Shi’s partners indicate a 25-percent increase in capacity, or the ability to produce more output with the same labor and equipment. Shi anticipates future partners will see even better capacity results, as well as significant decreases in inventory and
lead times.

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