The Intersection of Lean and Industry 4.0

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is progressing rapidly.  Manufacturing companies are incorporating new technologies involving robotics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality, just to name a few.  There is a heightened sense of urgency for companies to get on board or be left behind.

Most South Carolina manufacturers already have an active and developing continuous improvement program that incorporates Lean Manufacturing principles.  Anyone involved with this understands that these programs do not occur overnight.  An essential element is developing a lean or operational “culture” within the workforce.  How should a manufacturing company incorporate the new technologies without upsetting an established lean culture?  Is there overlap between the two?

In the OpExChange broadcast in mid-February, the presentation and discussion were led by Mike Ungar, business coach with Focal Point.  Mike has a rich history in manufacturing with thirty-five years of that spent developing the lean manufacturing culture at Michelin, both at local plants and globally.  The discussion in this event focused on Industry 4.0 and its relationship with Lean Manufacturing.

Industry 4.0 Tools – More Lean tools

A key take-away that resonated from today’s session was that Industry 4.0 should not be looked upon as a unique program, separate from Lean Manufacturing.  Rather, it should be viewed at as a set of additional tools that may be used to support existing continuous improvement efforts.  Lean manufacturing remains the backbone of the operational structure.  Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) is still the mantra, but the digital transformation now enables organizations to perform this continuous improvement cycle much quicker, increasing both competitiveness and value for the customer.

Value Stream Mapping

Mike pointed out that the goal of Lean Manufacturing is essentially to improve and sustain flow to best serve the customer.  A key tool used to identify opportunities for improvement is the Value Stream Mapping (VSM) process.  This technique methodically creates current state and future state maps to identify the seven wastes (NOWTIME or TIMWOOD) and identify where to focus improvement efforts.  Industry 4.0 tools offers additional resources to address opportunities to eliminate waste and improve flow.

Industry 4.0 Tools

Several Industry 4.0 tools were discussed during the meeting, of which there have already been several OpExChange events highlighting the use of them:

  • Sensor Usage – Use of sensors to collect data, particularly at bottle-neck operations to improve Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). (OpExChange plant visit at Stanley Black & Decker.)
  • Artificial intelligence – Utilizing digital twins and predictive analytics to predict and prevent future failures. (OpExChange report-out from Rolls Royce, Delta Bravo, Dish Network, FN America.)
  • Augmented Reality – Assisting operators or technicians in work instructions or maintenance task. (OpExChange report out from SeeDaten with AHT Cooling)
  • Virtual Reality – Utilizing goggles to train associates in a virtual setting that mimics reality. (OpExChange Plant visit at Shaw Industries).
  • Collaborative Robots & Quality 4.0 – Utilizing robots for repetitive tasks and automating inspection tasks (OpExChange Plant visit at Dish Network).

Have a Problem First!

Mike cautioned against using Industry 4.0 technology to find a problem to fit the tool.  Much of the emerging technology seems cool and “shiny.”   When evaluating the full toolkit, a simpler solution might be found to address the root cause.  Mike emphasized to “have a problem and look for the right tool to solve it.”  The VSM is still one of the best tools to identify the opportunities to improve.

Become Knowledgeable, Continue to Improve

The Industrial Revolution is occurring and, yes, all manufacturers should be participating.  This does not mean every site must check all of the boxes for each technology.  It does mean that they should become aware of the tools and capabilities that are available to supplement their existing tool kit.

All OpExChange members received access to the video recording of this session, presentation material, access to detailed reports and recordings from past events, as well as a lean manufacturing assessment spreadsheet.

Mike pointed out the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP) is offering a half-day workshop on Practical Pathways to Industry 4.0 on March 17th in Greenville and on March 18th in Summerville. There is also a Manufacturing X.0 conference in Greenville on April 26th and 27th.

About the OpExChange

The OpExChange, sponsored by the SCMEP, is a peer-to-peer network of companies in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practices activities. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys.  If you are interested in joining, contact Mike Demos ( or visit the OpExChange website to see current companies:


About Mike Ungar

 Mike Ungar is a Certified FocalPoint Business Coach and Executive Coach.  He has 35 years of experience with Michelin in manufacturing and human resources.  Mike is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Clemson MBA program.


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