Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.
Importance of Flexibility
Imagine that you're at your favorite restaurant and you've just finished a steak. Your knife and fork are covered with sauce and potatoes, and the only thing that you're left waiting on is dessert. However, it probably won't be too appealing to eat your crème brulee with a steak knife and fork. Beyond that, it just wouldn't be efficient. This is one of the reasons that restaurants come and change your utensils out.
Factories are similar to discerning diners in that they want to have the right tools or resources to do the job at hand. However, changing out the equipment in a factory is often more complicated than a waiter coming to offer a spoon. That said, a company that is able to have flexible resources, meaning that it has the ability to make changes necessary to quickly adapt to different circumstances, will find that it is able to compete very well.
By resources I don't just mean raw materials. This also includes the machines that help a company transform those raw materials into a product. In this lesson, we'll see how companies that use lean manufacturing, a process that strives for efficiency and limited waste, make use of flexible resources.
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- 0:00 Importance of Flexibility
- 1:10 Responding to Changing Supply
- 1:55 Responding to Changing Demand
- 2:39 Responding to Changing…
- 3:28 Lesson Summary
Responding to Changing Supply
Imagine that you are the owner of a widget manufacturing company. You have a problem, however: your main factory has been geared to transform steel into widgets. However, changes in price and availability mean that you now have to make do with aluminum. What are you to do?
Traditionally, a factory would have to close down and retool large portions of its capabilities. However, with flexible resources and lean manufacturing principles, this very well could have been planned for, and changes would have already been made to the machines. Instead of retooling the factory, it could be as simple as wheeling in a new pneumatic press or even switching a setting on a smelting machine. In any event, by having flexible machines, your company was able to eliminate wasted time.
Responding to Changing Demand
But what if it's not the supply that has changed but the demand? Having flexible resources and a lean manufacturing mindset means that you're also able to respond quickly to changes in demand. Let's say that light gray widgets are out of style. Now only charcoal gray widgets will do. With lean resources, you can quickly change out the paint colors of your widgets.
If that sounds a little ridiculous, you should know that a company that has long had a reputation for constantly maintaining flexible resources through lean methods, Toyota, actually saved millions of dollars with just such a change. They found out that if they could switch paint colors without having to clear out the hoses, they could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost time.
Responding to Changing Technology
Finally, by using flexible resources, you can also adapt to changes in technology. For this, let's look at your widgets' abilities to link up with a smartphone. In the past, that would likely mean Bluetooth. Now it could mean having a Wi-Fi receiver that takes directions through an app. A non-flexible method would have created a slot for the Bluetooth receiver that was built solely with Bluetooth in mind. Meanwhile, a flexible option would have included not only some leeway in case a newer technology had to be installed but also an assembly process that allowed for the company to change whatever was being put in that slot. Returning to carmakers, we can see this in entertainment systems. While there has been an evolution from tape deck to touchscreen, there has often been an appearance of trying to think at least one generation ahead.
Let's review. Companies that are able to maintain the greatest amounts of efficiency are often those that are able to do the best. That means being able to minimize downtime. One way to minimize downtime is to maintain flexible resources, which means that it has the ability to make the changes necessary to quickly adapt to different circumstances. This is especially important for those firms that use lean manufacturing, a process that strives for efficiency and limited waste, because it helps them to further eliminate inefficiencies.
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Flexible Resources in Lean Production
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