Despite the general enthusiasm for lean manufacturing and increased technology in the woodworking industry, there are still a lot of professional woodworkers who push back. To many of them, standardizing processes and increasing automation smacks of decreasing creativity. But could it really be the other way round?

A prime tenet of lean manufacturing is to standardize processes. Jim Lewis has a great article about that in this issue. The idea, of course, is that if processes are standardized then they can be more efficient, and expectations of everyone from upper level management to end-use consumers can be met. But does that squelch creativity in the process? Only, if the process has no provision for improvement, and that’s never the case with lean manufacturing. Continuous improvement (kaizen, to use the Japanese term) is even more fundamental to successful lean manufacturing.
So, how does that work? Once processes are standardized, there needs to be an equally standardized process for making changes to improve those processes. As soon as someone comes up with a better idea, it can become the new standard. Rather than just continuing to do something “because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” there is a never-ending opportunity to try better ways.
Adding technology and automation could be one of those better ways. Automating or standardizing one process could open the door to more creative ways to handle other processes. Another article in this issue talks about how FADCO in Oklahoma uses software and automation efficiently to create outstanding one-of-a-kind architectural millwork projects. Part of it has to do with how they add User Created Standards to their software program to help automate parametric changes in designs. In other words, they add things to the process that make even customized changes easier.
Civilization can’t work without some level of standardization, even if all it means is speaking the same language or agreeing to the same method of exchange. Finding the creative potential in standardizing and new technology can open even more creative potential.

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