How can we create efficient small-scale production?

A large proportion of production in Norwegian industry is adapted to fit the individual customer and is low-volume. How can we make such production more efficient? A new Erasmus+ project will give us the answers.

Author: Runo Isaksen .

Published: 26.04.2016

We currently know a great deal about the art of making mass production efficient. The 'lean manufacturing' method was invented by Toyota and has spread to a range of industries and countries. Traditionally, the method was used by mass-manufacturing industry, which has to manufacture products on schedule, with as little waste as possible. The reality is quite different as regards customised small-scale production, which is what a large proportion of Norwegian industry is engaged in.  


Lean is about creating an even flow throughout the whole process, so that the customer receives the product at the correct time. (Ill. photo: KM Subsea)


Fills the knowledge gap

'The established lean-methods are not suitable for small-scale production, and there is no course or degree in "customized lean", i.e. slim, customised small-scale production. There is a knowledge gap in this area, both with regard to research and education. We are now building new competence and intend to fill this gap,' says Erlend Alfnes.

He is an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and coordinator for the project 'EuroLEAN+', supported by Erasmus+. 


More efficient production

Kongsberg Maritime Subsea is one of the industry partners in EuroLEAN+. They make high tech instruments and equipment for the subsea industry.

Production is extremely customised at Kongsberg. Several products are produced in extremely low volume, often only one to three units.

'Our production process has many stages. Products and components are often passed back and forth 15 to 20 times. It is far from the one-way production line that characterises mass production. Engaging in small-scale production that is flexible and lean at the same time is a challenge,' says Daryl Powell, Lean Program Manager at Kongsberg Maritime Subsea.

'We want to see the educational institutions developing researched-based education in the "customized lean" subject area. The students will then acquire the competence that we need and, at the same time, we can use the training programmes in our own in-house training,' says Powell.' 

Daryl Powell

The downturn in the petroleum sector makes it even more important to reduce waste and unnecessary costs, says Daryl Powell.


World-leading in flow

According to Powell, there is great interest in introducing 'customized lean' throughout the Kongsberg Maritime Subsea group, which has factories all over the world, including in Germany, the UK, Canada and the US.

'Have you also been affected by the downturn in the petroleum sector?'

'Absolutely. But that just makes it even more important to reduce waste and unnecessary costs.'

'If Euro-LEAN is optimally developed, where do you see yourself in three years?'

'We will have a world-leading flow efficiency. That's the goal. This means that we'll have the shortest possible flow time, no delays, no waste, and an efficient flow of products,' says Daryl Powell.


Building a meeting arena

The partnership has a three-year duration and includes partners from both academia and business and industry in Norway, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The partners will develop a joint course aimed at students in the partner countries and employees who require continuing education.

Erlend Alfnes believes that Norwegian companies have a lot to gain from this European cooperation.

 'We will also develop a joint knowledge database, where we collect best practice from all of the partners. A grand overview of this kind does not currently exist and we can use it to learn from each other's experience,' says Erlend Alfnes. 

Erlend Alfnes

Erlend Alfnes believes that all companies have a lot to gain from this European cooperation.

Students from different countries will work together online. International student exchanges may be introduced. After the start-up meeting last autumn, the partners decided to focus on developing a joint Erasmus+ master's degree in 'customized lean.'

'It will be an arrangement where the students take the degree at several educational institutions in different countries,' says Erlend Alfnes.

He adds that they are also considering applying for funding through Erasmus+ knowledge alliances. A more long-term goal is to establish a larger research project supported by the EU's research programme, Horizon 2020.


Erasmus+ is the EU's programme for education, training, youth and sport for the period 2014–2020. The programme is aimed at all levels of education.

Erasmus+ strategic partnerships support academic cooperation between organisations that work in the field of higher education. The aim is to develop, transfer and implement innovative practice that leads to increased quality of education and learning across national borders.

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