Lean Production and Industry 4.0

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This course integrates real technologies from manufacturing into a class of 20-30 students to gradually develop a more productive truck factory. The factory is the classroom, and the trucks are built with LEGO bricks. Besides learning about fundamental principles in production management, we showcase four technologies that contribute to end-to-end digitization of a production system: additive manufacturing (AM), worker instructions and production control enabled by a manufacturing execution system (MES), quality inspection enabled by explainable artificial intelligence (AI), and material flow analysis enabled by process mining (PM). Students learn how lean production differs from other forms of production and how digital transformation has the potential to change and improve manufacturing.

In this course, we let our students immerse themselves in the role of a truck producer. They are the managers, process engineers, quality inspectors, and assembly workers who run the factory producing LEGO trucks. The course is run over two days: The first day is an introduction to lean principles using a purpose-built board game developed by Professor Torbjörn Netland. The second day introduced new “Industry 4.0” technologies to the same game setting.

On Day 1, the students advance through different forms of production. First, they start with craft production, where each person individually assembles as many trucks as possible. As they learn about some of the problems associated with this form of manufacturing, we define stations and move to batch production. While this reduces production times, it highlights new problems, such as a lack of communication and a chaotic flow of materials. Consequently, we implement a line production where every station is moved to the correct order of production. Finally, the students learn about visual management, flow, and decentralized control in the context of lean production. In each round, performance metrics are tracked, so the students experience how the production becomes more and more efficient and profitable. The students are also actively involved in brainstorming and deciding improvement suggestions after each round using a lean practice called “kaizen workshop.”

On Day 2, we used four technologies as sample use cases of the so-called fourth industrial revolution (“Industry 4.0”) to further increase the productivity of the factory. The students are divided into groups and consecutively solve a real problem from the perspective of one of the following teams, directly interacting with the respective technology. The students rotate in teams through four technology stations. At the MES station, the students are tasked with increasing transparency in the production line by using a system from the software company Tulip that can provide instructions to the assembly worker and track the time it takes to perform the respective assembly step using barcode scanners. The improved transparency, in turn, is used at the Process Mining station to gain better insights into the production line. Using the software tool Fluxicon Disco, the students are challenged to drill down into the recorded process data and find possible explanations for long production times and late deliveries. At the Additive Manufacturing station, the students learn about 3D printing using Prusa 3D printers. It enables them to produce individually customized truck parts, increasing the market offer by allowing customization and individualization. Finally, at the Visual Inspection station, the students are tasked to use an automated quality inspection system powered by explainable Artificial Intelligence (XAI) models to detect issues in the truck assembly. The XAI solution is offered by EthonAI, a spinoff from the group of Prof. Netland at ETH Zurich.

Rather than dig deep into the topic and overflow students with information, it focuses on hands-on training. I'm convinced that we will therefore take more out of it and will remember the content for longer.
(Course Participant)

Success Factors

A critical success factor in teaching with serious gaming is to create a safe environment for the students to participate in the discussions and engage with the course. We found that role-play works particularly well because it encourages students to establish a deeper connection with the problems they face and gain empathy for the different roles that are involved in manufacturing a product. Gamification and roleplaying also provide room for humor and storytelling.

An important aspect for us in showcasing these technologies was not only to provide hands-on experience but also to have the students reflect on the benefits and drawbacks of automation and digitization in manufacturing. In moving through these four stations, the students are interacting with the same technology that is used in manufacturing companies all over the world. Besides critically analyzing technological aspects, we also reflect on the impact on the workers. Eventually, all the technologies are integrated in a final game round where LEGO trucks are built with a combination of lean and Industry 4.0 principles.

Student Feedback

We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the students who attended this course in 2023. Apart from the engaging format which demands active engagement from everyone, the students told us they would be more confident in remembering the contents of the course. Regarding the technologies the students interacted with, they were surprised at how easy it was to build something from off-the-shelf solutions and were eager to explore this further in their professional careers.

The enthusiastic teaching team created an atmosphere that motivated us to learn and participate.
(Course Participant)

Course Description

Lean Production
This course (i) introduces the fundamentals of Lean Production and (ii) shows how new Industry 4.0 technologies can support a lean transformation. Through lectures, hands-on serious games, reflection and discussions, students learn (i) how lean production differs from other forms of production and (ii) how lean in synergy with new technologies can increase productivity in a production setting.
After taking this course, students will be able to:
1. Operationalize and apply the just-in-time principle in manufacturing
2. Design a production system that minimizes quality errors
3. Work in a team to solve problems with selected problem-solving tools
4. Understand the role of behaviors and leadership in lean transformations
5. Select and apply new Industry 4.0 technologies to support the lean transformation
Two-day block course
reflection report, pass/fail

ETH Competence Framework