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European Education and Culture Executive Agency

LEAN4.0: Lean European Action-learning Network utilizing Industry 4.0

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Lean manufacturing is a production method aimed primarily at reducing times within the production system as well as response times from suppliers and to customers. It is widely recognised as the preferred, tried and tested approach to create highly efficient processes in European industry. Its application has led to significant growth in productivity, revenue, employment, and sustainability across an array of sectors.

The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0),  is changing the way factories work. It presents a new challenge and opportunity for the European manufacturing industry to remain highly innovative and competitive. Lean European Action-learning Network utilizing Industry 4.0 (LEAN 4.0) aims to educate the operations managers of the future. More specifically, the labour market will require knowledge and experience with regard to the continuous improvement activities associated with Lean Manufacturing on the one hand, and the disruptive technological innovations of industry 4.0 on the other.

To achieve its goals, the LEAN4.0 project focused on the creation of a strong and effective knowledge alliance network. Students, academic staff and industry practitioners began their collaboration to solve challenging, real-world problems and share their experiences afterwards, thus intensifying the link between practice, education and research.

Main results of the project

  • The knowledge alliance created an assessment tool that supports the management of industrial companies;
  • This assessment tool made possible the taxonomical classification of company types and learning practices;
  • BNAL methodology which enabled the promotion of the knowledge gained;
  • DSS (decision support system) which supports managers when integrating industry 4.0 technology with Lean manufacturing.

Q&As with LEAN4.0  project coordinator Professor Erlend Alfnes:

How did you come up with the idea for LEAN4.0?

The initiation of Lean 4.0 was the result of a long-term collaboration between four HEIs (NTNU, Ghent University, Osnabruck University, and Han University). The collaboration started in 2008 with a North Sea Interreg project called “European regions for innovative productivity” (ERIP) aiming at creating more productive manufacturing SME networks with lean manufacturing.

This was a transnational network with participants from the UK, Norway, Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. The next project started in 2015 and was a Strategic Partnership project called the European Lean Enterprise Alliance Network (EuroLEAN+). EuroLEAN+ developed a networked action learning alliance for co-creation of innovative customized lean practices together with industry.

In the early phases of our collaboration, we focused on lean practices. However, by the time EuroLean+ ended, Industry 4.0 had become an established concept, and smart technologies such as augmented reality, drones, autonomous mobile robots, etc. had been introduced in factories.

There was no doubt, within the consortium, that new knowledge was needed to combine Lean and Industry 4.0 approaches to improve performance.Thus, we started the knowledge alliance “Lean European Action-learning Network utilizing Industry 4.0” (Lean 4.0) in 2018.

What was one of the most challenging moments of LEAN4.0?

International collaboration is always challenging. Researchers from different countries have different interests and skills and need to learn how to collaborate effectively during the project.

The most challenging moment was when one of the partners withdrew after the project had already started. We had to find a new partner to fulfill our requirements. Luckily, we able to able to recruit SINTEF (the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia) as the new partner, and they have made significant contributions to the project, particularly  to the development of our “Blended-Network Action Learning“ methodology, which is one of the main outputs of Lean 4.0.

From your point of view, how is the project contributing to the beneficiaries' real-life and activities? Could you provide a few examples?

The project has addressed the need to bring together the two disciplines of Lean and Industry 4.0. Initially, the consortium  established a knowledge base of best practices on Lean in combination with Industry 4.0 technologies, both through literature analysis and small-scale pilot projects.Innovative solutions were developed, leading to the creation of a reference model to support the adoption of these Smart Lean Operations.

The knowledge gained during the project  resulted in the development of new teaching materials  to meet the industrial needs for well-educated students as future operations managers. Moreover,we promoted the concept of life-long learning for operations managers by carrying out dedicated seminars/webinars for operations managers. Through the development of the Blended Network Action Learning methodology and of the web-based platform, the consortium facilitated the effective exchange of  knowledge gained between HEIs and industry, as well as within HEIs and industries themselves.

And what was the most rewarding moment?

Professor Jannes Slomp, a project participant, stated: “The more we talked about the Lean 4.0 project, the more rewarding moments we have experienced”. The project gave a boost to our research, and several of the participants have now published about Lean 4.0 in international journals. We organised a series of workshops.

The most awarding moment was the reflection sessions about lean and Industry 4.0 together with managers. The international student workshops where students from several countries presented and got feedback on their project from each other, from industry representatives, and from academics was also highly rewarding. Furthermore, witnessing the overall success of the pilot activities, which brought benefits to the companies involved, and observing the development of collaborative spirit and trust among these companies, was very gratifying.


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