Industrial Automation



‘Tis the season, and individuals and businesses alike are striving to get through the holidays without taking on too much extra weight. With rising pressures to cut costs, beat competition, and produce the optimal amount of product to meet demands, it’s no surprise that a methodology dedicated to eliminating wasteful efforts, improving quality, and streamlining operations is constantly referenced in the world of manufacturing. This concept – appropriately termed “Lean Manufacturing” or simply “Lean” – is so crucial to industrial operations that it has become a familiar term to the general public as well. Let’s take a look at the components of Lean and the ways in which Omron Microscan helps businesses uphold its values.

Lean principles can often come across as common sense. One would expect that manufacturing companies would strive to reduce waste, continuously improve their operations, and give back to society, just as Lean mandates. However, such expectations do not always play out so smoothly in practice. In a sense, Lean is the response to the excuse that these things are “easier said than done.” It’s a philosophy in its own right, and the strategy that it lays out for improvement and waste-reduction plays out like a way of life rather than just a series of boxes to check off. There’s even a sort of spirituality to it – the kind that fitness enthusiasts feel during their daily exercise routine.

Lean manufacturing has several important principles, but we’ll just consider a few. Perhaps the best-known principle is the mandate to reduce waste within processes. Running in tandem with this goal is the requirement to build quality into the system so that things are done right the first time. Lean also calls for continuous improvement and a concerted effort to keep workloads steady from day to day. Aside from the manufacturing process itself, Lean encourages businesses to respect their workers and strive to be a force for good in society.

Let’s begin with the most obvious principle: waste reduction. In the Toyota Production System (TPS), the concept of muda (Japanese for “wastefulness”) is one of the three kinds of deviation from the proper allocation of resources. Omron Microscan plays a key role in helping companies reduce muda by keeping better track of their products and the parts that make up products-to-be. Product components are stamped with direct part marks (DPMs) containing important information, such as serial numbers and date of manufacture, before they go onto the assembly line. If it transpired that certain components manufactured in a specific factory on a certain day were faulty, then the industrial code readers (such as those produced by Omron Microscan) would be able to pick out just those items and discard them. Without this technology, a much greater quantity of product would need to be scrapped, producing costly waste.

DPMs and the cameras that read them are also critical to the effort of maintaining high quality. In Lean manufacturing, the goal is not simply to build high-quality products, but to build quality into the production system itself. DPM reading and machine vision technology are essential for transforming the workflow into one that gauges quality at numerous checkpoints. Omron Microscan’s machine vision cameras can measure distances between components on printed circuit boards (PCBs) and flag those that don’t meet expectations. Since each component is stamped with a DPM, it’s easy to pull problem pieces for rework or rejection.

The ability to track product components and pull those with errors helps manufacturers abide by the Lean principle of continuous improvement, or kaizen in Japanese. When every piece has a DPM and every DPM is scanned multiple times throughout the product lifecycle, manufacturers acquire a treasure trove of data that can be analyzed for ways to make the process function better. For instance, the time it takes for pieces to go from one spot on the assembly line to another can help determine where bottlenecks are occurring. As operations are further streamlined and data is leveraged to forecast future challenges, manufacturers can approach the goal of heijunka. This is a Japanese concept that loosely translates as the state of having a steady, predictable workload, rather than one that fluctuates wildly from month to month or day to day. You could think of heijunka as the nirvana of Lean.

The last principle of Lean that we’ll discuss here is not directly related to manufacturing operations, but rather to the act of running a business. Lean instructs companies to respect their workers and the environment around them, for a company should always give back to the society that drives its profits. Omron Microscan’s parent company, the Omron Corporation, takes this fully to heart, with a stated mission to “improve lives and contribute to a better society,” and with a charitable foundation that contributes significant amounts to disaster relief, education, basic needs, and other causes each year. In the words of Omron’s founder, Kazuma Tateishi:

“A company is most valuable when it contributes to society beyond the simple pursuit of profits.”

Omron Microscan takes great pride in being a socially conscious company whose very raison d'être involves helping other companies keep their operations Lean.


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