The phrase lean manufacturing provides a mental image of a slim, well toned body capable of efficiently functioning. This can also refer to your slimmed down processes which can efficiently and productively produce your organization’s product. In this article, we will define the elements of lean manufacturing, its benefits and tips for best practices. 

Overview: What is lean manufacturing? 

Lean manufacturing is a production process based on the concept of maximizing productivity while minimizing waste. Waste is defined as anything that is non-value-added in the eyes of the customer.

Although the concept of lean was written about by such American luminaries as Ben Franklin, Frederick Taylor, and Henry Ford, it was Shigeo Shingo and Taiichi Ohno of the Toyota Motor Corporation who codified it with the creation of the Toyota Production System (TPS).

The five core principles of lean manufacturing are defined as:

  1. Value: Value is determined from the customer’s perspective.
  2. Map the value stream: The value stream is your process flow from raw materials to disposal. Each stage of your production process needs to be examined for waste, and anything that doesn’t add value for your customer should be eliminated. 
  3. Create flow: Creating flow is about removing functional barriers to ensure that your processes flow smoothly. 
  4. Establish a pull system: A pull system means your process work is driven by your customer demand. This is opposed to a push system, where you run and build inventory regardless of demand.
  5. Perfection: The pursuit of perfection through such techniques as Kaizen events is accomplished by a culture of continuous improvement.

In the pursuit of waste elimination, lean manufacturing will seek to eliminate the 8 wastes of lean, described as:

  1. Transportation: The unnecessary moving around of people, equipment, and material. 
  2. Inventory: Elimination of excessive inventory.
  3. Motion: Unnecessary and dangerous movement. 
  4. Waiting: The waste of time waiting for people, equipment, materials, and information. 
  5. Overproduction: Producing more than the customer (or your process) needs. 
  6. Overprocessing: Doing more than the customer wants, needs, or is willing to pay for.
  7. Defects: The production of a defective product or delivery of service.
  8. Skills: Skills are the waste of not using people’s talent, knowledge, and experience to improve the organization. 

3 benefits of lean manufacturing 

Anything that reduces waste and improves productivity will have benefits. Here are a few of them.

1. Reduces cost 

Eliminating waste and inefficiencies in your process and reducing excess inventory will lead to a significant reduction in your production costs. 

2. Improves quality 

The elimination of non-value-added tasks will reduce the opportunity for producing defective products and rework. 

3. Improves process lead time 

If you eliminate process steps that don’t add customer value, you will reduce your overall process lead time and be able to deliver your product to the customer faster. 

Why is lean manufacturing important to understand? 

Creating a lean manufacturing organization can serve as the basis for a continuous improvement effort such as Lean Six Sigma. Understanding what is involved in lean manufacturing is your key for doing that.

Understand what waste is

Since lean manufacturing is the elimination of waste, you will need to understand what we mean by waste, the different types of waste, and how to eliminate them.  

Waste reduction does not necessarily mean spending a lot of money 

Most waste reduction just requires the analysis and elimination of steps that do not add value for the customer. This is usually accomplished by simple process changes rather than expensive capital expenditures.

Linkage to Six Sigma 

Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma are not contrary approaches to continuous improvement. The reason it is referred to as Lean Six Sigma is that you will want to first reduce waste through lean manufacturing before you seek to reduce variation and improve the process using Six Sigma

An industry example of lean manufacturing 

A national glass manufacturer was having difficulty delivering finished products to their customers. At first, senior leadership explored the idea of installing new, expensive, modern robotic-driven equipment. They brought in a Lean Six Sigma expert to assess their organization’s production process.

After analyzing their process, it became obvious that new equipment was not necessary. The consultant, along with the operators on the line, were able to identify steps that were not value added for the customer and steps that were resulting in excessive glass breakage and rework. 

They applied the 5 principles of lean and the 8 wastes and, within a month, were able to lean out the process without spending any capital dollars.

Production flowed, inventories were reduced, quality was improved, and people felt better about doing their jobs. 

3 best practices when thinking about lean manufacturing 

As in most process improvement techniques, there are ways to implement lean manufacturing that will make it smoother and easier to do. Here are a few tips. 

1. Drill down 

The more you drill down from your macro process to your underlying micro processes, the easier it will be to identify and eliminate the sources of waste. 

2. Fully understand what your customer defines as value added 

Since you will be seeking to eliminate non-value-added activities from your process, you will want to have a full understanding of what your customer considers value added. That way, you can identify those activities and tasks that don’t contribute to that. 

3. Get buy-in from the organization 

In order to effectively implement lean manufacturing in your organization, you need to gain the full support of leadership as well as that of your operating level. Since waste, and therefore lean, is applicable across your entire organization, it requires that all employees buy-in; otherwise, you may experience resistance and push-back.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about lean manufacturing

What are the 5 principles of lean manufacturing? 

The five principles are: identify value, map the value stream, create flow, establish pull, and seek perfection. 

What is the purpose of lean manufacturing? 

Lean manufacturing is designed to improve product quality, reduce production time, eliminate waste, and reduce total costs. 

Can I apply lean manufacturing to a non-manufacturing process? 

Yes. The lean principles of identify value, map the value stream, create flow, establish pull, and seek perfection can be easily applied to any process in your organization. 

For example, you can look at your sales process and identify what activities your customer feels are value added and which are not. You can do a value stream map on your sales process. You can make the process flow and establish the pull of your customer as the driving force. And finally, you can seek perfection and continuous improvement in your sales process.

A lean review of lean manufacturing 

Cut out the waste.

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