Flow from engineering


Many are now convinced of the benefits of flow in the production process. Flow is essentially about:

  • carrying out the work continuously from start to finish – as opposed to doing some work, putting it down on a pile, getting someone else to pursue the task and so on
  • making sure the person doing the work does so in a smooth, uninterrupted manner

Of course, flowing work on both dimensions is never easy but, in manufacturing, we eventually get it right-ish, and the benefits in terms of work ownership, quality and productivity are immediately visible. Flow is simply better.

Yet, the true benefits of flow are often missed by manufacturing experts who focus too narrowly on the production process. The real challenge is to flow directly from engineering to production.

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When engineers plan their project, they’re asked to plan for:

  1. the due date for the project landing in production for start of production
  2. the key performances of the product
  3. the target cost of the product
  4. which production line it is supposed to go to

By planning ahead the production line, engineers learn to take into account the specificity of the equipment early in the design process. If the existing equipment doesn’t fit their requirements for their product, they need to argue the case for further investment. In both instances, engineers learn to focus on concurrent engineering (design for assembly) right from the get-go.

This simple practice is not always easy for engineers, who now must not only solve product design problems, but also be smart about production constraints, but it has a large impact on the firm’s profitability as a whole. Over a period of time, this teaches the company to offer new products on existing lines, and so develop its flexibility whilst reducing its overall costs – and improving its capital efficiency.

Monopolistic niches to gorge oneself on are a thing of the past. Companies now compete first on quality, second on variety, third on price. Learning to flow right from engineering teaches you how to make better, more varied products with less investment. That is truly lean.

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