What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is a systematic method for the elimination of waste within a manufacturing system. It is also known as lean production, or just “lean.”  Lean can refer to a number of things. A “lean” company or process is one that maintains the proper standards of waste reduction or one that is “becoming lean” and aiming for the “lean” title.  “Becoming lean” refers to a process, a commitment to continually changing the manufacturing process until the status of “lean” is achieved. In addition, Lean Six Sigma Toolbox is a set of tools or methods used as resources to maintain or achieve “lean” status. Lastly, lean can also refer to a philosophy. Lean thinking is a business management philosophy that aims at reducing waste.

How it Became the Industry Standard

Lean principles are derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry.  They were originally referred to as a set of “tools” that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste. However, over the years a second approach to lean manufacturing started to become the industry standard.

Toyota implemented and promotes a process called The Toyota Way (or The Toyota Production System) which went beyond just waste elimination. The Toyota Way focused on improving the flow or smoothness of work, and gradually eliminating “unevenness” throughout the system.  

Though differing slightly, both methods are focus on an approach to reduce cost and eliminate waste. The Toyota Way is arguable more renowned due to the fact they were able to grow from a small business to an international corporation implementing their “needs” driven strategies.

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8 Deadly Sins Of Waste

In order to eliminate waste, you must first properly identify where it is coming from or what it is. Here are the 8 types of waste in manufacturing that are crucial to becoming or maintaining “lean” status.

  1. Transport – Waste caused by moving things around. Moving people, products, & information can cause increase costs, waste time, increase the likelihood of poor communication and product damage.
  2.  Inventory – Storing parts, pieces, documentation ahead of requirements is cash tied up in material. Producing something that is waiting around is not adding value to your company.
  3.  Motion – This refers to the movement of equipment and its operator, including bending, turning, reaching, and lifting. The solution would be to re-arrange the layout to decrease the distance between stations, and make it easier to reach things that are often used.
  4. Waiting – When work has to stop for some reason, maybe waiting for parts, information, instructions, or equipment, the company is losing money.
  5. Over production – This is common in manufacturing and often is a result from unclear customer needs. To avoid overproduction only making what is IMMEDIATELY required.
  6. Over processing – This can also result from unclear customer needs as well as lack of standards. The solution starts out mapping your process and finding the best way decrease cost, time, and resources. Once the process is standardized, make sure it is clearly communicated so employees feel empowered to make decisions without wasting time for approvals.
  7.  Defects – Mistakes, scrap, and incorrect documentation that requires rework. Rework means you are paying in cash, time, and resources double that what was originally intended.
  8. Skills – This one is the most recent addition to the list and involves under utilizing capabilities, and delegating tasks with inadequate training.

*A way to remember this is the acronym TIM WOODS*


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  • Al

    This is a joke. The Toyota way, the GM way, the Ford way, etc is the rip off way.

    Lean manufacturing is the Henry Ford way.

    Henry Ford described how he manufactured automobiles in his book My Life and Work.

    “The parts of a specific model are not only interchangeable with all other cars of that model, but they are interchangeable with similar parts on all the cars that we have turned out.”

    Every part in every similar Model T was interchangeable with all the other 14,999,999 Model Ts manufactured. This is not to say the parts never changed. They were improved when they could be, but the improvements were always made so that the improved part was interchangeable with all previous parts. With this goal, the Model T was always improved and almost always sold at a lower price because of continually growing economies of scale. All Model T owners could benefit from the improvement, not just the owners of the newest, because all parts were interchangeable.

    How does almost every industry manufacture today? They manufacture in a way that John Kenneth Galbraith might call “innocent fraud.” Take just one part in a “modern” Ford automobile. Consider the horn. How many different horns did did Ford use during the years 2007 – 2016 in cars – leaving out SUVs and pickup trucks?

    The answer is 23.

    This is lean manufacturing. This is true for almost every part.

    Lean manufacturing is an offensive term.

    Start Year End Year Make Model Part Part Number Price

    1 2016 ////// Ford MKZ Horn FA1Z-13832-C $10.86
    2 2015 ///// Ford Mustang Horn FR3Z-13832-E $30.71
    3 2015 ////// Ford Mustang Horn FR3Z-13832-A $16.88
    4 2015 ////// Ford Focus Horn F1EZ-13832-A $12.46
    5 2015 ////// Ford Focus Horn F1EZ-13801-A $13.95
    6 2014 ////// Ford Fiesta Horn D2BZ-13832-A $36.11
    7 2013 ////// Ford Fusion Horn DG9Z-13832-A $17.77
    8 2012 ////// Ford Focus Horn CM5Z-13832-A $19.35
    9 2011 ///// Ford Fiesta Horn BE8Z-13832-B $29.02
    10 2011 ///// Ford Fiesta Horn BE8Z-13832-C $27.72
    11 2013 2015 Ford Focus Horn DA5Z-13832-A $34.30
    12 2011 2013 Ford Fiesta Horn CE8Z-13832-A $38.16
    13 2005 2013 Ford Mustang Horn 6R3Z-13832-AA $27.75
    14 2006 2012 Ford Fusion Horn 7E5Z-13832-A $44.59
    15 2008 2011 Ford Focus Horn 9S4Z-13832-A $35.18
    16 2005 2011 Ford Crown Vic. Horn AW1Z-13832-A $42.89
    17 2008 2009 Ford Taurus Horn 8G1Z-13832-B $45.67
    18 2005 2009 Ford Mustang Horn 4R3Z-13832-AB $45.49
    19 2006 2007 Ford Focus Horn 5S4Z-13832-AA $25.42
    20 2005 2007 Ford Five Hundred Horn 7F9Z-13832-A $46.43
    21 2004 2007 Ford Focus Horn 2W7Z-13800-AA $47.36
    22 2003 2007 Ford Taurus Horn 2L3Z-13832-AA $57.07
    23 2002 2007 Ford Taurus Horn 4F1Z-13832-AA $43.73