Managing production complexity

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The more variants a product has, the higher the production complexity. Fraunhofer IPA gives you long-term competitive advantages thanks to excellent processes in production and logistics.

Are your employees losing track of the rising number of variants and complex material flows? Are you trying to reduce complexity, but your customers want more and more? At Fraunhofer IPA, we help you discover the advantages of your complexity and, if appropriate, exploit them.

The simpler the product and the more stable the market, the lower the complexity. Simple and cheap production processes lead to huge price pressure and an often unattractive market. Manufacturing high-variant products for a volatile market is quite a challenge. However, those who can manage this complexity and use it to their advantage can achieve high contribution margins. Many hidden champions are real experts at managing complexity. In a complex environment, the “command and control” approach is doomed to fail. The key to managing complexity is thinking in systems. This is because the system adapts evolutionarily.

How can you use this concept of thinking in systems for your production process?


Our approach to complexity management entails four steps.


Step 1: Balance goals and set priorities

  • Rather than over-optimizing single goals, complex situations call for the balance of multiple strategic objectives. It makes no sense, for example, to optimize capacity utilization at the expense of delivery reliability.
  • Even in complex situations, it is still possible to clearly identify acute problems. Together, we prioritize the issues that are currently the most important.

Step 2: Understand interrelationships and quantify bottlenecks

  • In complex systems, many employees and processes contribute to the result. With the aid of value stream analysis and other methods, we create an overview of the most important manufacturing processes.
  • Often, the entire system collapses because certain parts of it are overloaded. We work with you to pinpoint the critical bottlenecks and focus on complexity drivers.

Step 3: Make the system simple and resilient

  • It is impossible to have full control over complex systems, but they can be made resilient.
  • Not every problem needs a complex solution. Simple and robust solutions are often just as effective, such as Kanban when it comes to material supply.

Step 4: Think about the implementation process step by step

  • Evolution instead of revolution. Complex systems learn with every change. It is easier to take small steps that can be implemented quickly than to work on large projects that will just end up being filed and forgotten about.
  • In sprints, we support the agile implementation of the developed ideas. Because you learn best from real results.

Do you work in a complex manufacturing environment and want to take the next steps toward operational excellence? Get in touch with us and tell us about your latest big challenge. We are looking forward to tackle this together with your team.

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