How Lean operations at Nextracker deliver customer value through supply chain efficiencies
I joined Nextracker’s supply chain and new product introduction (NPI) team as a program manager in December 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged and global supply chains suffered serious disruptions. Between soaring shipping prices, cargo ships delayed for months waiting to unload at major ports, shortages of key parts and components, and endless project schedule delays, it was an incredibly challenging time to step into a new supply chain management role.
However, I wasn’t completely unprepared. As a young engineer, I had valuable operational and manufacturing experience working in India’s automotive industry, after which I came to the U.S. to attend Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. While pursuing my MBA, I hunkered down on another big project that would prove invaluable for my role at Nextracker – writing a book about the impact of digitalization on Lean operations and manufacturing, titled Lean On! Evolution Of Operations Excellence with Digital Transformation in Manufacturing and Beyond.
The concepts and practices of Lean have been adopted by hundreds of organizations since being theorized by business management guru W. Edwards Deming and put into action by the brain trust at Toyota Production System, or TPS, in the early 1960s. In a nutshell, Lean business processes are based on three fundamentals: 1) delivering value as defined by the customer, 2) eliminating waste, and 3) continuous improvement. Lean terms such as kaizen, kanban, Six Sigma, and many others have permeated corporate efficiency-speak for decades.
Lean has evolved considerably since the 1960s, and its latest evolution embraces the digitalization revolution – after all, as we’ve seen in so many industries, software is taking over the world! When I arrived at Nextracker, the company’s Lean journey was well underway, but still a work in progress.
My first priority was to get a handle on the enormous complexity of our supply chains, which has necessarily increased alongside Nextracker’s growing, global scale of operations. Off the back of 850+ MW weekly global manufacturing capacity, Nextracker delivers more than 400,000 tons of steel tracker components and millions of other parts annually, connecting dozens of supply chain partners to hundreds of active projects in dozens of countries.
Software had a clear role to play in making this complexity manageable, so I designed systems to automate tracking and control for all these different components, suppliers, and customers. As a result, planning has become much easier, tracking of material has become clearer, and we have a more streamlined logistics forecasting process.
Improved logistics forecasting also plays a role in another important goal of Lean processes, which is to focus on delivering customer value. The order in which components are delivered can impact project construction schedules, since certain components must be installed before others. Thus, we use software platforms to give our customers visibility and ensure that product delivery is arranged in a way that allows them to start production sooner – what we call “buildable megawatts.”
Another way that we’ve improved supply chain efficiencies during my time at Nextracker is through the design of our product itself. In some cases, we have been able to change the design of certain components so that they can be packed more densely in shipping containers, reducing shipping costs and risks of potential delays. We have also implemented design changes to make components more easily installable, which has enabled us to cut installation times in half for certain components.
There are many other examples where my previous work implementing and writing about Lean methodologies in the digital age have helped to support Nextracker’s efforts to “Lean On.” After all, one of the core tenets of Lean is that optimizing and improving your operations is an endless process! I’m looking forward to using my expertise to help Nextracker continue to improve supply chain efficiencies and deliver greater customer value for a long time to come.
If you want to learn more about the essentials of Lean and the digital transformation, my book is available digitally or in print via Amazon and other outlets.
Mohit Gupta is an operations enthusiast, technophile, and a Lean practitioner with almost a decade of experience working in the supply chain and operations excellence domain. Currently, committed to powering the world through solar energy at Nextracker LLC in the Bay Area, Mohit is involved in strategic initiatives within the supply chain team to ensure digital transformation and streamlined processes for faster and leaner deployment of solar trackers around the globe.