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Innovative tool can help manufacturers become more efficient, productive


BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 5, 2005 – Two Virginia Tech researchers have developed an innovative computational tool that can help manufacturers improve productivity within their organization.

The Lean Decision Support Tool (LDST), developed by Frank Chen, John L. Lawrence Professor in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering, and Hung-da Wan, a Virginia Tech graduate student in the Center for High Performance Manufacturing, guides users through an eight step process that can help create a "leaner" organization.

"Lean Manufacturing" has proven to be an effective concept in promoting productivity in manufacturing to a higher level. "Our tool assesses the leanness of a manufacturing organization, identifies the current state and urgent targets, and provides lean implementation guidelines," said Chen.

Data collection, analysis, and reported results are executed by an easy to use web-based program. With Internet access, the Lean Decision Support Tool provides fully interactive, supportive information to manufacturers whenever it is needed.

A survey questionnaire collects data for analysis. An assessment model translates survey answers into quantitative outputs and qualitative decision support information. The quantitative output report provides the "leanness" scores, which give the users a big picture of their performance on lean implementation. Moreover, it identifies the current phase of the organization on the roadmap to become lean, and evaluates the urgency of current targets.

The qualitative reports provide detailed information on the urgent targets, future targets, as well as improvement suggestions to assist users to tackle the problems and to advance in the lean journey.

The Center for High Performance Manufacturing was established in July 2001 through the Commonwealth Technology Research Fund. Virginia Tech leads the center and James Madison University and the College of William and Mary participate.

The center helps manufacturing firms research, develop, and implement new processes, methods, and technologies in order to stay competitive in today's dynamic manufacturing environment. Work is performed in wide variety of areas, ranging from supply chain design and flexible automation to rapid prototyping and low-cost composite manufacturing.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, the Lean Decision Support Tool itself is being upgraded with input and feedback of industry users. A free trial and assessment version is available at http://www.fmslab.ise.vt.edu/ldst, and comments may be directed to Chen at ffchen@vt.edu. The results of center projects, such as the LDST, are available to all center member companies. Interested organizations may contact the Center for High Performance Manufacturing at chpm@vt.edu.