Translating Lean from Automotive to Pharma

Oct. 12, 2005
Most Lean Manufacturing training uses terminology from discrete manufacturing. The University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) offers courses geared specifically to pharmaceutical manufacturing professionals. Their students are already making a difference at Pfizer, Eli Lilly and other companies.
Pharmaceutical Lean Manufacturing efforts have been hampered by a lack of personnel who understand Lean and can communicate its principles to their peers. Unfortunately, Lean training courses are all too often oriented towards other industries. “There is a limited number of people that have done Lean in a pharmaceutical environment,” says Izak Duenyas, Ph.D., a University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) business school professor. “Courses are often taught using aerospace or auto parts language. We think that pharmaceutical people shouldn’t have to translate this.”
Michigan has been doing Lean training for more than a dozen years, says Duenyas. Initially, the demand was from the “usual suspects,” such as aerospace and automotive firms. But in the last few years, Duenyas and colleagues in the schools of business and engineering have seen a great need for targeted pharmaceutical industry Lean training, and have run several courses on campus and on-site for manufacturers such as Merck and Teva. The courses use industry lingo and pharmaceutical case studies of Lean implementations.Michigan’s Tauber Manufacturing Institute is sending teams of top students to manufacturers who have specific Lean projects. Last year, two students under faculty supervision helped Pfizer increase the capacity of its “kilo lab” scaleup facilities by 20% — which saved the company from spending millions to construct new labs. Manufacturers see the program as a way to get good Lean help at almost no cost, and to get the inside track on recruiting talent with Lean expertise, Duenyas says.For more information on the Lean Pharma courses, visit For descriptions of recent Lean projects at Pfizer, Eli Lilly and manufacturers from a variety of industries, link to
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Paul Thomas | Managing Editor