The Japanese Concept of Muda and European SMEs

What do the principles of the Japanese Toyota production system have to do with the digitization of (German) SMEs? At first glance, not much – but on closer inspection, quite a lot. Because the Japanese term “muda,” as used by Toyota’s production manager Taichii Ôno, is understood to mean “any human activity that consumes resources but generates no value.” ¹ In other words, the waste of time that could be better used for value-creating activities, but which has to be invested, for example, in searching for tools, mobile equipment and other operating resources.

For medium-sized companies, the “muda” components of transport, inventories, movement and waiting are both particularly interesting and particularly productivity-braking.  In other words, answers to the questions: Where in the company is the tool I am looking for, is it currently in use elsewhere or does it need to be serviced first, when is it available, where is an equivalent, currently available tool? Answering these questions costs time and money, because in addition to the loss of valuable working time, expensive replacement equipment is often kept on hand, which shortens the search, but for which the acquisition costs then bear no relation to the utilization.

Muda und die Digitalisierung des deutschen Mittelstands | Favendo Asset Tracking

About searching and finding tools

So what can be done? Of course, the magic word “digitization” inevitably comes up in this context as well, which can be used to slay almost any problem these days. In our particular case, we are talking more specifically about the digital mapping of operating equipment inventories, including location tracking in real time. This is made possible, for example, by a Bluetooth-based asset tracking solution. In a first step, this solution can simply answer the question “Where is the tool I am looking for right now”. Connected to an ERP system via API, it can also automatically manage inventory lists, control maintenance intervals, check utilization, and make processes in use transparent.

In this process, all movable assets are provided with tags, each of which transmits an ID that is received by permanently installed trackers and forwarded to the location platform. This platform calculates the position of the asset and displays it via a mobile application on a smartphone, for example, or feeds it into a connected ERP system, which can then be used to evaluate the location data.

Track and trace anything?

Whether it makes sense to equip even the smallest caliper with a tag, or whether the cost of the tag far exceeds the practical benefit and it makes more sense to simply keep several copies on hand, is of course a matter of consideration. However, when it comes to expensive impact drills, tool cases, tablets or laptops, there is every reason to use real-time tracking to make them easier to find and to protect them from theft. There is less need to keep spare equipment on hand, and the working time saved is used for added value and productivity.  

1) Wallace J. Hopp: Factory Physics: foundations of manufacturing management. 2nd ed. / Wallace J. Hopp, Mark L. Spearman. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2000, S. 287

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