Lean, Value Stream Mapping, and Process Industries

I spoke with Peter L. King this past week about his new book, Value Stream Mapping for the Process Industries: Creating a Roadmap for Lean Transformation. This book is Peter's the third book on how Lean concepts apply to process operations, so I asked him: "What fuels this interest?" Here is his complete reply:

Actually, it’s much more of a passion than an interest -- a passion created during my 18 years applying Lean concepts to DuPont’s operations. I found it very frustrating that none of the available literature nor any of the courses I took could put Lean in a context that was appropriate to the kinds of processes I was working on, such as synthetic rubber extrusion, sheet goods manufacture, household and automotive paints, bulk chemicals, food and beverages, and carpet manufacture. These processes were quite different from the discrete processes, such as bolting sheet metal together to make refrigerators or automobiles, discussed in the then current books. I wanted to share my experiences with others in similar process industries to help them climb the Lean learning curve much faster than I did.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM), the subject of the latest book, is a very good example. While the format presented in Learning To See is very appropriate to both parts assembly and process operations, it must be expanded and adapted to completely describe the wastes and flow barriers found in process operations. Because the number of material types tends to expand significantly as material moves through a process operation, the VSM must clearly illustrate this diverging product flow. Traditional Lean deals with takt (customer demand) as a time factor, whereas in processes it is much more effective as a rate factor. While the assumption is often that takt is constant throughout the operation, in process manufacturing, however, it often must increase as you move back through the process to accommodate yield losses. And, the fact that key pieces of equipment are often shared across several product families presents a challenge on how to balance the need to clearly and simply illustrate flow with the need to be thorough and complete; bad choices in this area can understate utilization and hide bottlenecks. These are just a few of the issues I faced in creating effective VSMs for DuPont’s processes which are all described in the book.

A well-constructed VSM can be the blueprint that a Lean architect uses to guide a complete Lean transformation, as the examples in the book demonstrate. 

Do you have experience applying value stream mapping to the process industries? What have been the challenges?