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Lean and Six Sigma Create Valuable Synergies for RFID Adopters

Here's how to achieve the greatest return from your company's RFID investment, and facilitate continuous improvement.
By Kurt Hozak
Aug 27, 2012Those who use and study RFID frequently stress the importance of utilizing the technology to enable value-adding process changes (for example, see Managerial Guidance for Applying RFID in the Tourism Industry), but some businesses find it difficult to identify opportunities for improvement. One way overcome that problem is to apply lean and Six Sigma principles to reap greater benefits from RFID on an ongoing basis.

The lean implementation at the GM-Toyota New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) automotive plant in Fremont, Calif.—which operated from 1984 until closing in 2010—illustrates many of the process-improvement principles that are relevant for getting the most out of RFID investments. Paul Adler, a professor at the University of Southern California, described NUMMI's history and key characteristics in the articles Time-and-Motion Regained and Flexibility Versus Efficiency? A Case Study of Model Changeovers in the Toyota Production System.

General Motors originally operated the plant using a non-lean approach. "Over the years," Adler wrote, "GM-Fremont came to be what one manager called 'the worst plant in the world.' Productivity was among the lowest of any GM plant," and "quality was abysmal." GM initially closed the plant in 1982, but when Toyota wanted to learn about making cars in the United States and GM wanted to learn about Toyota's production system (considered by many to be the epitome of lean manufacturing), they formed the NUMMI joint venture and reopened the plant in 1984, using a lean approach. By 1986, productivity and quality were higher than at any other GM facility.

Adler identified trust and training as the critical contextual factors behind the success of NUMMI's lean efforts. Mutual trust between management and assembly workers was vital, because instead of relying primarily on methods engineers to drive continuous improvement, NUMMI asked the assembly workers to take much greater responsibility.

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