Leading manufacturers in China—domestic and multinational alike—are beginning to adopt proven global-management techniques, such as lean manufacturing, to make their factories more efficient. With so many companies producing goods there today, low-cost labor isn't the advantage it used to be. Global overcapacity in many sectors and intense competition in many domestic Chinese markets have prodded manufacturers to look for new ways to cut their costs and tackle other competitive issues, such as reducing lead times and boosting the quality of products.Dice Wu Yu, director de PLP en China, respecto a las dificultades de su empresa en el mercado interno:
Lean-manufacturing approaches have started to catch on globally, so it is hardly surprising that they are finally appearing in China. Many manufacturers around the world now use the production approaches and tools that Toyota Motor pioneered a generation or more ago. Lean tools are particularly effective for identifying and eliminating the root causes of waste and inefficiency, as well as variability and instability—and in the Chinese factories of both multinational and domestic companies these obstacles to world-class manufacturing are omnipresent. When low labor costs confer huge benefits, manufacturing managers generally don't pay attention to other sources of competitive advantage. Now they do.
But to apply lean techniques in China today, manufacturers must accept compromises or trade-offs that they may not have to make elsewhere. Suppliers in China, for example, typically are not as stable and reliable as those in other countries, and this has implications for the ability of manufacturers to adopt just-in-time assembly or to manage the quality of their products. What's more, China's workers don't take to problem solving as readily as their counterparts in Japan and the United States have.
Our international products have predictable lead times and lot size requirements. If companies are going to do maintenance on part of an international power grid, they will know months in advance about their need for a certain power product. They can outsource that to us.El trato con los proveedores locales:
But in China, domestic demand is very different. Here, the orders are frequently smaller and typically come from all over the country. Customers need to have their orders delivered quickly. Their planning may not be good. They may be talking about the need for products, but funding for the project may be uncertain. Then, suddenly, they have a problem to fix and need the products urgently. This ordering behavior is very common in China. It's common in many sectors, not just ours.
(...) Our suppliers were part of the problem. A portion of our products are outsourced to third-party vendors. Supplier quality is a big issue here in China. Many suppliers aren't stable. They will give you initial samples that are of very good quality. They give you the first delivery and it's OK, and the second delivery is OK. But when you get the third delivery, the quality just goes. When we return the order the supplier says, "If you're lucky you'll get this back in two weeks. If you're unlucky it will be two months."Al intentar aplicar metodos del estilo de Toyota (Lean), las dificultades muestran el desparejo estado de la industria china:
[Dice Bill Haag, vicepresidente de la empresa] The items we outsource have to match up with the ones we produce ourselves. We can't have good delivery performance if the outsourced products don't arrive in time. Our lead times for domestic orders were increasing to 14 days. We were disappointing domestic customers and our sister companies, but demand—both domestically and internationally—continued to grow. People were working a lot of overtime. Capacity was the issue for us.
The Quarterly: How did you come to the decision to take a lean approach to solve your capacity issues?Los recursos humanos, al aplicar Lean:
Bill Haag: We were looking at traditional ways of solving the problem—putting up another factory, buying more equipment, hiring more people. But we also knew there was another way to deal with this. Our US factories had, at that time, been spending a couple of years working on lean transformations to reduce costs.
But we wondered how we would do that in China, where there aren't many resources related to lean or to something similar to Toyota's production system. Lean was a word, an idea, that wasn't really well known here. Also, our situation was different in China. We have done a significant amount of lean work in our North Carolina facility in the United States and, just recently, in our Brazilian location. Neither was under the capacity crunch we had here. They were stable, profitable businesses that wanted to do something better. They had systems in place—everything from computer systems to quality and maintenance systems. They were not under significant production pressure. The goal at those locations was to reduce work in progress, reduce inventories, reduce lead times, and reduce costs.
But in China we were fighting fires on all fronts. The business was growing, and every system in the business was under stress. The computer system, the maintenance and quality systems—everything was overloaded. Our people and our managers were overloaded. It's hard to step back from firefighting and say, "OK, now let's try to implement a structured program."
[A quien quiera implementar Lean en China:] (...) they have to give a lot of thought to their capabilities. Equipment would have issues, quality and training limitations would pop up, and so on as we put pressure on the system to operate in a more disciplined manner—everything from reducing the number of lines to changing the way we identify and store inventory on shelves and flow inventory to the line. We didn't think through those problems as clearly up front as we should have
In lean, the supervisor's role changes from being a monitor to being an active problem solver. This is very difficult in China. People here don't like to be challenged. In the West, people speak up and suggest ways to solve problems. In China, they are less inclined to speak up and make a difference. They wait for the person above them to say what needs to be done. Supervisors like to say "Do this" rather than get workers to participate in solving problems. And workers don't typically give ideas to managers.
Implementing lean is a big change for us, and I think we're still adjusting. People here are doing more team problem solving than they were a year ago, but we still have a long way to go. Getting the supervisors to change is key.
[Dice Wu Yu] Mind-sets and behavior are difficult to change in China. Bringing in new ideas from the West, such as lean, and having them understood, accepted, and adopted is a big challenge. But it can be done.