Lean and Agile Research Group: exploring more efficient working methods

How School of Management research helped to make the automotive, aerospace and construction industries save money and cut waste.

Cars being stored in a modern automotive factory.
Cars being stored in a modern automotive factory

The Lean and Agile Research Group (LARG) conducted research into how lean production and agile working methods could make workflows more efficient. Professor Andrew Graves led LARG, working with Dr Glenn Parry. They also collaborated with academics from other institutions and industry experts.

They worked with many well-known organisations, including:

  • HM Treasury
  • The Highways Agency
  • DaimlerChrysler

LARG’s research focused on helping organisations and industries to work more efficiently. They explored ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ working methods and applied them to real situations. Their aim was to help organisations to respond to new demands, provide a better service for their customers and reduce waste.

Lean working focuses on maximising value and reducing waste. The main principle of lean working is to decrease wasted time and resources to make processes more efficient. This, in turn, increases profit.

Agile working has similar goals. It focuses on dealing with unpredictability by giving people more responsibility and flexibility.

Their research covered three sector-led themes:

  • automotive
  • aerospace
  • construction

Automotive

LARG’s research started in the automotive industry, looking at how to make the car production process more efficient and better for the customer. They took inspiration from methods used by Japanese manufacturers, mainly Toyota, who pioneered the lean approach.

LARG’s automotive work focused on two major projects: 3DayCar and 5DayCar.

3DayCar looked at how UK manufacturers could better respond to customers’ orders. The aim was to see if cars could be built-to-order (BTO) and shipped anywhere in the UK within three days.

5DayCar, an EU-funded project in collaboration with 30 automotive suppliers, was an evolution of this.

By applying results from 3DayCar to the European industry, 5DayCar investigated how to optimise the supply chain, and deliver a BTO car across Europe within five days.

The research findings have been shared widely among vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and other automotive industry associations. LARG’s work had a major impact on:

  • reduction of waste common in previous 'build to stock' production models
  • development of an environmentally friendly manufacturing approach
  • improved profitability through the reduction of 'inventory' (new cars losing value in large distribution parks)

Read more about the 5DayCar project and its impact.

Aerospace

LARG’s work next expanded into the aerospace industry. The UK Lean Aerospace Initiative (UKLAI) was a national research programme involving:

  • the Lean Aerospace Initiative (LAI)
  • the Lean Flight Initiative (LFI)
  • Cranfield University
  • the University of Nottingham
  • the University of Warwick
  • over 30 aerospace companies

The initiative came from a long association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who worked on LAI.

UKLAI was a response to reduced defence budgets and competitive pressures in the commercial aerospace industry. There was a clear need to cut waste and add value to operations.

The research focused on five themes:

  • benchmarking performance by tracking industry improvements using aerospace metrics
  • measuring accounting systems that support lean working
  • finding the key factors for connectivity to create value chain competition
  • identifying the impact of customers on design, manufacture and customer support
  • starting supporting projects for lean implementation (LeanXeur EU: eLearning Tools)

This research led to the creation of the Lean Across Europe (LeanXEur) group. LeanXEur is a training initiative open to European small and medium-sized enterprises involved in the aerospace industry.

LeanXEur aims to spread knowledge about lean working practices. It does this through training and eLearning resources that help organisations adopt lean processes and measure their impact.

LARG’s aerospace research also had an impact on:

  • reduction of waste across supply chains
  • industry-wide adoption of common aerospace performance metrics

Construction

LARG also worked to help benchmark and improve performance in the construction industry.

The Agile Construction Initiative (ACI) aimed to improve productivity, quality and procurement by using agile working methods.

LARG worked on ACI with organisations including:

  • HM Treasury
  • Balfour Beatty
  • The Highways Agency (now Highways England)

ACI research focused on simplifying processes and benchmarking performance improvement. They looked at this from both the view of the company and the client.

They then devised systems to measure Cost of Quality (COQ) and bring about early warning systems to help project managers make quick decisions to reduce losses.