Although it plays a vital role in manufacturing, executives continue to struggle with the intersection of analytics and information to support lean manufacturing initiatives. But this code has suddenly been cracked, thanks in part to the iPad.

Why the iPad?

What’s the iPad’s secret for a significant production increase and more uniform conformance to a manufacturer’s lean manufacturing initiative? It’s simple. iPad’s iOS provides a new way to touch applications and manipulate data. Gone are the days with people stuck navigating through menus while juggling a laptop or netbook.  More than any other executive, today’s manufacturing professional needs agility and mobility. And when squeezing insight and meaning out of every piece of data adds up to reduced costs, improved throughput and ultimately greater profitability, the new iOS approach can make the world of difference.

Take a manufacturing company with global facilities as an example — how do operations management and senior executives quickly drill down to the latest production run statistics for a given line or machine at a glance? Enter the iPad. While there are plenty of cases where an iPad has been used on the manufacturing floor to keep track of tactical functions, it can be even more powerful in the hands of management, looking at every strategic advantage that could boost the bottom line. That’s where manufacturing intelligence comes into play.

Yet one of the biggest challenges with some business intelligence applications is that the very data and detail that makes them so powerful can make them cumbersome. For example, data from various locations may not be centralized, making performance comparisons between manufacturing sites a time consuming task. But the same design that makes consuming media on an iPad such a joy also makes it possible to rapidly drill in to the latest data sets, and can even make slicing and dicing data fun.

How the iPad Helps With Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing can radically improve profitability, customer satisfaction, throughput time, and employee morale. The benefits are generally lower costs, higher quality, and shorter lead times. To make an initiative as “lean” as possible, executives help by significantly cutting down on massive amounts of red tape.

Enter the iPad. By using an iPad as a new way of interacting with operations data, manufacturing companies have transformed the way they do business. In the 20-plus years I have been working with manufacturers, I’ve never seen executives so interested in — and in fact, eager to manipulate — detailed data.  We now have CEOs and division presidents making decisions and providing leadership based on what’s happening on the factory floor right now and today.

In most situations, interpreting details takes time that senior executives just can’t afford, so they use summary data, which doesn’t give the whole story. That ultimately means many “cooks in the kitchen” are needed to manage a lean manufacturing initiative. Yet the iPad’s ability to make unfiltered, real-time information readily consumable also eliminates the need for interpretation or summarization, letting executives get an accurate, undiluted view of every aspect of operations. This enables even the most senior leaders to be involved in lean manufacturing initiatives from the get go — without help from others to translate data.

Here's a scenario I’ve seen first-hand, in which an iPad app helped generate some healthy competition among executives.  Let's say Plant A in Paducah, Kentucky has re-architected its product line and realized a significant increase in capacity. With real-time data accessed easily and intuitively with an iPad manufacturing intelligence app, Plant B’s lead executive in Springfield, Illinois immediately saw the efficiencies Plant A accomplished. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the Plant B exec easily replicated and instituted these efficiencies.

In a particular instance like this, we’ve seen the manufacturer increase capacity across North America operations by 25 percent in less than four months. The reason? The operations management team and senior executives — all the way up to the C-suite — have meaningful data in their hands with the iPad app that gives them visual insight to tackle tough problems and propagate best practices as they happen.

Ultimately the iPad means fewer resources and much less time needed to diagnose a problem and improve efficiencies across an enterprise. It’s also the only way for manufacturing professionals to connect and understand manufacturing performance real-time, regardless of their proximity to the production line or shop floor. So when it comes to going lean in manufacturing, the iPad is much more than a space saver, it’s an agile money-saver and money-maker, too.

About the Author

Andy Amalfitano is VP & General Manager of the Manufacturing Execution and Intelligence Division at Solarsoft Business Systems, a supplier of modern business management systems, ERP software, and IT services to manufacturers, distributors, and wholesale businesses worldwide.  With more than 20 years in the application software business, including 12 years at both Dun & Bradstreet Software and The Baan Company, Andy is passionate about helping manufacturers achieve their productivity and performance goals.  You can contact him at