Can Lean Manufacturing and the Smart Factory Co-Exist in 2020?

Lean manufacturing production has proven to be a valuable methodology to improve productivity while reducing waste and product costs. However, with rapid advancements in i4.0 technologies, many manufacturers dismiss or abandon lean principles in hopes of improving production processes through new technology adoption alone. Are these manufacturers leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table or are lean principles irrelevant in today’s smart factory environments?

In our on-demand webinar, “The Next Generation of Lean into the Connected Factory”, Shologix in-house lean manufacturing expert, Martin Boersema, explains that lean manufacturing still holds weight in today’s shop floors and its methodology not only co-exists with smart factories, but the two are in fact, married.

Throughout his 15 years of experience as a manufacturing change agent, Martin has spearheaded lean kaizen activities at the work cell level as well as applied lean management tools to daily production operations. He has experienced first-hand the power of lean initiatives on production performance when applied and supported by smart factory technology.

“A connected smart factory does not conflict with lean initiatives, it supports them by providing real-time data at your fingertips, supplements them by using data to uncover new opportunities, accelerates them by speeding up data collection, and helps to sustain the results through visualization and democratization of gains. The interconnectedness of lean objectives and processes and the right smart factory technology is a powerful relationship that can elevate operational performance, continuous improvement, and company culture in a short period of time.”

Let’s take a step back. First, what is lean manufacturing?


Martin explains, “essentially, lean manufacturing, also known as lean production, is a philosophy based around the elimination of waste within a system. It was first pioneered by the Toyota Production System (TPS) in the 1990s and has become widely used throughout the manufacturing industry. The development and adoption of lean manufacturing methods have been a matter of natural selection in the manufacturing world over the years. Those companies that don’t embrace lean, struggle, and eventually fail. Those that do have a fighting chance at prosperity.”

According to Martin, in order to become a lean-forward operation, businesses should embrace the 14 Principles of Lean, summarized below:

  • Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.
  • Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.
  • Use ‘pull’ systems to avoid overproduction.
  • Level out the workload (work like the tortoise, not the hare).
  • Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time.
  • Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.
  • Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and process.
  • Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and process.
  • Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy,and teach it to others.
  • Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.
  • Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.
  • Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation.
  • Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly.
  • Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.

The Manufacturing Advisory Service, reports that lean manufacturing can lead to:

  • 26% increase in delivery
  • 33% increase in stock turn
  • 25% increase in productivity
  • 26% decrease in scrap
  • 33% decrease in space

“You can think of the emerging smart factory as the cutting edge of lean manufacturing where lean goals and objectives are optimized with the help of smart factory technology,” says Martin.


Smart factories are fully-integrated, collaborative, and flexible manufacturing environments that respond in real-time to meet changes to supply chain, consumer, and market demands.” While there are many elements to a smart factory, the two key aspects of Smart Factories are:

  1. IIoT Technology Connectivity – Also called Industrial Internet of Things (machines, material handling equipment, products), this refers to effective collection of and use of data through intelligent sensors, motors, or robotics.
  2. Connectivity of shop floor to the top floor – Connecting shop floor to top floor involves the analysis and conversion of data into useful information in real-time for top management.

Enter IIoT Smart Factory technology. 

“For a factory to become truly connected, leverage lean practices, and attain efficiency gains, it needs a smart factory platform that can deliver on four pillars: assets, data, people, processes. A connected factory facilitated with smart factory software can be used to make better decisions on lean production. Essentially, a smart factory connects all the machines, existing systems such as ERPs and MES (even legacy systems), automates production monitoring, visualizes the performance of assets and people, creates analytics, and drives predictive and smart decision making.”


Today’s ever-complex manufacturing processes cannot be optimized just by manual lean management reliant on employee documentation and data gathering. Factories need to transition into digitized, smart factories through smart factory technology adoption to accelerate, sustain, and improve lean initiatives and attain maximum ROI.

Some examples of how smart factory technology can advance lean in today’s operations include:

  • Data collection
    • Identify and establish centralized, automated routines for data collection
    • Helps to make long-term, smart decisions
    • Standardizes routine data collection automatically and KPI measurements
    • Provides visual controls so no problem is hidden
  • Visual Management  
    • Engage operators by defining targets and standards
    • Enhance decision making and process control
    • Empower operators with easy access to their performance data
    • Uses visual controls so no problems are hidden
  • Employee Engagement
    • Drive engagement with daily reviews
    • Measure countermeasure effectiveness
    • Review improvement activities and sustain the gains
  • Measure Improvements
    • Bring value-creating big-data generated analytics to the entire enterprise
    • Promote benchmarking and sharing
    • Identify where resources are required


With the right smart factory technology, the union between lean principles and the smart factory can become a continuous improvement cycle that will enable operations to climb the ladder of manufacturing excellence.

Here is an example of how the Shoplogix IIoT smart factory platform facilitates continuous improvement through automated data collection, employee engagement, measurement, and improvement.

Watch Martin’s full on-demand webinar on The Next Generation of Lean into the Connected Factory, below!

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