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January 10, 2012

Quick Response Manufacturing

Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) is a variation on the lean philosophy for high variety, low volume environments – custom manufacturing, services, and other situations where very high product variety means there is no stable takt time. The approach has been largely developed by Rajan Suri with his most recent, and most accessible, book being “It’s about Time”.


In “It’s About Time”, Suri argues that lead time should be the primary performance measure in such situations and that the main cause of “waste” in high variability situations is wait time. One of the highlights of the book is the formulae that the author produces to show that the “wait” time at any particular resource is a function of the variability of arrival times; the variability in job times; and the amount of free capacity at the resource.


The keys to improving flow, therefore, in environments with high demand and high product variability are work to increase resource capacity (including quick changeovers and quality improvement); and work to reduce (as far as possible) variability in the work and in demand.


Where there is high variability there is no stable drumbeat (takt) and kanban cannot work effectively. Rajan Suri has developed an alternative “pull” signal – POLCA. You’ll have to read his book for the full explanation, but where kanban is an inventory signal, POLCA is a capacity signal. To use an analogy, it is like the token system on a single track railway. A train can only enter a section of track if a token is available, thus controlling flow and capacity.


Quick Response Manufacturing, in my view, takes the lean philosophy into new areas where traditional lean tools do not work well – particularly businesses where there are high levels of customisation and variability. I do feel that Mr Suri’s thoughts on cost accounting are somewhat misguided, but overall I would recommend that anyone involved in lean and process improvement should explore Quick Response Manufacturing.