What are the differences between lean and agile manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing relies on an assembly line.

There are many differences between lean and agile manufacturing, including production style, inventory levels, and customization abilities. A lean manufacturing technique is based on a mass assembly line strategy with a mix of workers and machines creating products from the smallest components to the largest external assemblies. In contrast, agile manufacturing relies primarily on production automation and modular parts to form the desired product.

Lean manufacturing largely relies on the employees who physically build a part or group of parts.

A major difference between lean and agile manufacturing is the production setup. Lean manufacturing relies heavily on employees to physically build a part or group of parts; that part of the product is passed on to another employee for attaching additional components. Automated machines can be added along the employee assembly line for more accurate manufacturing, such as aligning electronic components on a printed circuit board (PCB).

Lean manufacturing depends on a close relationship with suppliers who can produce and deliver items as needed.

In comparison, agile manufacturing uses automation as its main production strategy. The number of employees is reduced to save on labor costs; workers who remain along the production line are typically present to adjust or repair robotic machines when needed, rather than physically creating a product. As a result, the manufacturing line is efficient and cost-effective for the company and consumers.

Lean manufacturing relies heavily on employees to physically build a part or group of parts.

Inventory levels vary greatly between these two manufacturing styles. Lean manufacturing requires many small parts, from washers to screws, to build a product; the abundance of multiple parts contributes to high inventory holding rates. In contrast, agile manufacturing relies on building a modular part. This standardized parts structure allows different products to be made with the same few modules kept in stock, which contributes to reducing supply levels.

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Lean manufacturing uses a mixture of human workers and machines to assemble products.

Lean and agile manufacturing processes also differ in terms of the ease with which products can be customized in each system. Changing any part of a product in lean production to customize its operation or appearance requires redesigning the internal and external parts, as well as prototyping to verify functionality. Customized products are extremely expensive due to the high costs of this research and design. In addition, the production line is interrupted during the upgrade to produce the customized product, which negatively impacts normal manufacturing times and costs.

In contrast, agile production can accommodate orders for customized products as the modular construction can be changed quickly. The production line simply needs to adapt or add new modules to the existing product. As a result, the consumer can purchase a competitively priced customized product without impeding the business’s normal production line. Many consumers will seek products from companies that specialize in this way. Lean and agile manufacturing processes can satisfy customer needs, but with a direct effect on the cost of the final product.

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