The model line. It’s a lot of work to set one up, and it can take a long time to yield results. 

But a model line can be really useful when introducing concepts, like lean, or new technologies, like Drishti, to an organization. Gaining insights from a model line can take time, but if you have the patience and the enthusiasm to get one set up, there are ways to make them worth the effort. In a recent roundtable conversation Drishti convened with Dr. Jeffrey Liker, author of “The Toyota Way,” several senior manufacturing executives discussed the merits of a model line, and how to make it beneficial.

Launch your model line idea with the intent to go deep and really learn from it

This approach means getting buy-in from multiple levels. If you don’t have investment from the top, chances are the model line won’t work. You can’t expect to deploy ⅔ of a technology, or select pieces of a philosophy, and see the full potential. So it’s important to get a solid budget in advance; to set expectations for how long a deployment will take before results come through and to clearly articulate the results you’re seeking when you set up a model line.

Be prepared to scale the findings to other lines well before the model deployment ends

It’s great when you follow all of the rules above and end up with solid takeaways from the model line. But how do you disseminate those learnings across other lines, plants, etc.? And the bigger the organization, the harder it is to scale. One way to ensure scaling happens more smoothly is to identify other lines (e.g. line B) that are similar to the model line (line X) in advance, and think through how line B could be adjusted to reflect the configuration of line X; how the technology deployed on X would impact B differently; how the line associates need to be primed for changes in advance; etc.  

Treat the model line as an ongoing process, not a one-and-done situation

Finally, because a model line can be time-consuming and expensive to set up, it can be tempting to do it once and move on with your life. But the exercise of a model line is something even the most lean companies do on a consistent basis. Take Toyota, for example. According to Dr. Liker: 

“If you ask Toyota to see the model line, they have some going for 20 years with very high standards, and they have some lines where they’re experimenting with new ideas. And the idea is to have some learning line that’s trying to go to the next step.”

A truly useful model line can be used to showcase the ultimate vision of a company, and train other managers and supervisors across the company on how to get there in their own facilities.

It’s important to consider anything Toyota does when it comes to manufacturing, so it’s worth taking a closer look at the model line process and understanding how it can benefit your business.