What learning to ride a bike can teach you about Lean

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How did you learn to ride a bike?  Possibly with the help of stabilisers and a steadying hand of a parent, but ultimately through trial and error and lots of falling off.

The point is, you couldn't master this skill by reading a book or watching a video - you had to get in the saddle and do it for real.

And so it goes for Lean learning. Books and 'talk and chalk' classroom sessions will only take you so far. Lego simulations and 3-pin plug exercises get the learner more engaged; but the best way of teaching Lean skills and making them stick is to do it for real. And just like learning to ride your bike; that requires plenty of opportunity for trial and error.

Learn by doing

Your assembly line is business critical, so you probably can't afford to use it for experimenting with Lean learning. That's why big company Lean leaders, such as Caterpillar have their own simulated working environment (SWE) at their Peterlee site.  EEF has incorporated a SWE at the heart of its modern Lean approach - Lean Academy, which opens up this ultimate 'learning by doing' facility to mid-sized and SME manufacturers.

What is a Simulated Working Environment (SWE)?

The SWE practical learning experience is regarded as global best practice. It replicates the manufacturing environment - using a full-scale assembly line that can be reconfigured to challenge employees as they work through Lean challenges and scenarios. It's a fun way of learning through making mistakes and enjoying successes.  The key thing is that mistakes have no negative consequences - only positive ones that your people can learn from.

The practical challenges taking place in the SWE can imitate 'live' issues faced by your individual company - enabling your people to apply new knowledge and experiences directly to their work.

Confucius was spot-on with his words: “Tell me, I’ll forget; show me, I’ll remember; involve me, I’ll understand”.  This is especially relevant when targeting Lean at manufacturing shop floor workers, who are by their nature very hands-on. As such, learning in a SWE facility plays to their strengths.

manufacturingfloor               Assembly

Images above on behalf of Caterpillar SWE at Peterlee

How can SWEs be used in industry?

A well-designed SWE is invaluable in learning Lean techniques.  It's an ideal way of bringing to life continuous improvement, 5S, visual management, process mapping, standard work, value stream mapping, work load balancing, material control, problem solving and a wide variety of other Lean techniques.

Configurable SWEs can also be used as a low cost/low risk manufacturing process change prototype, for example when moving from a flow line to a cellular assembly station methodology.

The SWE is applicable to every aspect of front-line manufacturing management including maintenance, health and safety and logistics. SWEs can also be used as an assessment tool in recruitment or apprenticeship programmes and are also particularly useful for mature workforces when linked with training needs analysis.

SWEs are fundamentally a fun way to learn and can also be used as part of partnership programmes with schools, colleges and other community groups. This can be as part of a corporate social responsibility programme, a long term school-stage recruitment methodology, or a tool to help change the perception of manufacturing in the local area.

Opening up the SWE opportunity for smaller firms

SWEs are a real 'game-changer' in learning through realistic simulation. It is the foundation of EEF’s Lean Academy.  

EEF's Lean Academy is built around a full-scale, transportable assembly line, which can be reconfigured to simulate real company challenge or Lean learning tasks. In this affordable way, smaller companies can boost efficiency and growth to drive immediate gains, while embedding Lean processes for sustained improvement. 

It's  an intensely practical way of embedding the breadth of relevant Lean tools into your company and a rare opportunity to demonstrate (as below) what  pre-Lean 'chaos' looks like in comparison to the post-Lean 'ideal'.

SWEpicture1          SWEpicture2

Find out more about the benefits of Simulated Work Environments and the Lean Academy in this short video:

EEF’s Lean Academy SWE can be transported to an individual company’s premises, or public courses are available at EEF’s National Technology Training Centre, in Aston, near Birmingham.

 

Author

Manufacturing Growth Director

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