Lean Manufacturing Simulation

The Manufacturing Institute

The Manufacturing Institute are a specialist manufacturing support organisation who work with everyone from ambitious SMEs to global brands. The company delivers training, leadership development and onsite consultancy to help manufacturers improve their business performance. 

Like most organisations whose service delivery includes significant face-to-face engagement on their clients’ premises, The Manufacturing Institute found themselves grounded when lockdown restrictions came into force across the UK in March 2020. Not one to sit back and dwell, the senior leadership team in the company immediately started to look at ways they could continue to provide a much-needed service to their customers, in a remote and COVID-secure way. 

Due to the importance of continuing on with training support during the pandemic, the company looked towards service providers who offered remote learning services. The Immersive Learning Studio was asked by The Manufacturing Institute to design a Lean Simulation game that could be used remotely by delegates who were undertaking Lean training and coaching support. 

Prior to contacting us, The Manufacturing Institute researched the market looking for suitable products that could simulate Lean Principles remotely. However, there were no other providers who could offer a solution that met their needs.

We rose to the challenge as soon as we received the brief and set about creating a digital wireframe model that emulated the steps required to create a successful Lean simulation. At this stage, The Manufacturing Institute wasn’t fully aware of what they required – the only reference point they had was a Lego game played in a physical environment that was previously used to run these Lean simulations in-person.

To begin with, we set up a couple of scenarios that we could work from that demonstrated a very basic simulation of a push manufacturing system with a production batch size of 6.

In creating the wireframe, we required browser-based software that would allow collaborative sharable spaces that could house the activity. We leaned towards Trello.com for the wireframing, and Whereby.com to provide the digital room and audio.

An important requirement to consider was the issue of security. It was agreed that we needed to provide a level of security that would not only satisfy the standard security concerns for IP protection and data protection but would also be suitable for corporate requirements further down the line.

Following our initial simulation with the wireframe, we considered additional scenarios that would allow the demonstration of other lean principles such as: Push vs. Pull, Kanban, Centralised vs. Line Side Storage, Lot vs. Flow Production, Line Balance to Takt, Levelled Scheduling and Finished Goods Stock Control, Theory of Constraints, Impact of Bottlenecks and Getting People Engaged in Improvement.

Once the specification was agreed upon with the client, and the numerous layout permutations were decided upon, we then determined the multiplayer requirements and how many people would be participating in the lean simulation at once. A key factor in this was the need for seamless gameplay to ensure that all activity was synchronised across all player simulations at once.

Our recommended solution for this project was to build this simulation using the cross-platform game engine Unity 3D. Unity is, simply put, the world’s most popular game engine. It packs a ton of features together and is flexible enough to make almost any game you can imagine.

The Lean Simulation platform we designed and built for The Manufacturing Institute is housed in its own online secure area and there are no limits to the number of games that can be played at any one time. The simulation requires one host member – who acts as the facilitator – and any number of members from 5 upwards. Users are provided with a unique login code which they enter into the welcome screen, along with their name. The member is then placed into a virtual lobby area with the other members, whilst the facilitator assigns roles to each member. 

As the game is browser-based, anyone can play from anywhere in the world. There are no significant computing requirements or additional technical hardware required. All the game requires is a stable connection and a modern browser, and it works alongside any standard video/audio conferencing software.

The facilitator will assign members to the roles of Inspector, Material Handler, Assembler or Observer. There can be up to 6 assembly workstations and any number of inspectors or material handlers. 

The standard simulation can be started with a primed line and a production batch size of 6, however, this can be changed – the simulation can be set up in any way that the facilitator or the participants decide. 

Once everyone has been assigned to their roles, the gameplay area is automatically populated with the required workstations along with each worker/member, identified by name tags above their heads. The material handlers and inspectors are also assigned to their respective members. 

Once everyone has their roles and the shared gameplay area is populated with the required layout, employees and materials, each person is now able to view specific instructions relating to the role they are performing. Once everyone is clear on their responsibilities, the simulation can begin. 

The factory is a bike production facility and the objective of the game is to build bikes. The current simulated way of working is not allowing the factory to ship enough bikes or make a profit. The players need to make a change(s) to improve performance by applying some Lean concepts e.g.

• Layout design (to reduce motion and transportation waste),
• Line workload balancing (reduce waiting time, overburden and WIP)
• 1-piece flow vs batching (reduce lead-time and WIP)
• Pull vs push (reduce WIP)
• Build quality in vs inspection (reduce inspection waste and defects)
• Establishing standards (reducing variation, defects)

The assembly stations are set out around the virtual room in various places, to replicate a poor layout design. The parts store is also in its own location away from the assembly stations. The Material Handlers and Inspector have to “virtual walk” long distances around the room. Prior to any improvements, movement of assemblies around the shop floor can only take place in batches.

When the shift starts, the assemblers begin putting together their bicycles using the sets of parts in front of them. They must keep working until they have completed 6 subassemblies.

The assembler then calls out to the Inspector to inspect the subassemblies so that they can be released. The assembler then alerts the Material Handlers that they require the subassemblies moving to the next assembly station and also asks for another 6 sets of parts so that the assembler can keep working. 

The simulation demonstrates a number of inefficiencies within the production factory. Through conversations between the facilitator and the players, the team explores improvements they could make to their virtual factory. They can implement a number of changes such as; reorganising the workstations, re-distributing the tasks between workstations, removing the reliance on the
inspector, reducing batch sizes, signalling for parts only when needed, and more.

At any point when an “improvement” is made, the simulation can be restarted and the Lead Time KPI is monitored separately. The goal is to identify if certain improvements/changes will increase or decrease Lead Time and how those changes affect other KPIs. In addition to the Lead Time KPI, the simulated factory displays the number of completed builds, number of defects, if any parts are missing and how much waste is produced.

The simulation has moved out of the BETA stage and is now released to the client and their partners so that it can be put through its paces. The Manufacturing Institute are the first organisation to have a fully-featured online, multiplayer Lean simulation of this type and we are proud to have worked with the team to bring this product to life.