Ola Johansson columns | January 02, 2006

Lean Production saves the manufacturing in Sweden

Almost daily you hear about Swedish companies moving their manufacturing abroad to so called "low-wage-countries".
In certain cases it is surely motivated to move its production but in most cases the towel is thrown in even without efforts to keep the manufacturing and making it profitable.

Swedish industry has a great potential of improvement which conveys that it is possible to manufacture profitable in Sweden. To reach that, the industry needs to go through a change, both within development and production. The key could be a production adapted product in an adapted production system. This could sound easy but can be harder than you expect. The problem today is not the technical solutions - it's often about thinking manufacturing in a totally different way and there is also where the biggest issue is.

Within Swedish industry more and more have heard about Lean Production but those are few who really know what it's all about. Lean Production is bringing great opportunities to strengthened profitability and competitiveness through increased productivity and flexibility. There are today great opportunities for Swedish industry to increase productivity by more than 50% and if this turns out to be reality the decisions about moved manufacturing will certainly be reviewed. However Lean Production is not a miracle drug that many want to think. It is about healthy production technology and focus on the right things.

By implementing Lean Production the profitability would in most cases be improved and in most cases the manufacturing could also be kept in Sweden. A major change in the entire value chain is though needed, from the supplier to the end customer and in most cases a constructive review of the product's manufacturability. Many companies have today taken the first step but mostly they have created some highly productive spots who won't affect the overall result. One common reason for hesitation is that you need to challenge every function and the way you are producing. This could be a very uncomfortable process that many won't take or dare to enter. The question is; how to reach an improvement? Many companies think that Lean Production doesn't fit in to their operations since they are having these unique products manufactured in such small series. This is often just an excuse and a hope that a better and easier "concept" soon will arrive.

Lean production has of course both spokesmen and opponents but if you find out what it's all about you realize that it's all about reducing waste. Which means those things that is unnecessary, and this should of course be of interest to every company regardless what you think about Lean Production. One very important part of Lean Production is 5S which is a methodology to create order.

It is said that in average 25% of working time is used to look after material, tools and information. This corresponds to about 10 working hours a week and person. By implementing 5s a company could save a lot of money and time. If it's considered natural to create a good order on its working place in purpose to reduce costs - then why not doing this as soon as possible?

Many companies have tried but failed due to the lack of self discipline. Too many have considered 5s as a cleaning program which it certainly isn't. At many companies there are some areas that is sensitive for changes. The reason could be that the employees who are working there thinks that it is working the way it is and therefore are not willing to change. In that case implementing 5s could lead to difficult conflicts that many are unwilling to deal with. If a company doesn't manage to improve those areas that really need an improvement, then how will you be able to implement even heavier parts such as time studies to create a standardized way of working, new lay-outs and maybe even a new organization.

This text is a translation from Ola Johansson's original article published on


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