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.
Related Reading:  Can the US Compete with Lean Manufacturing Brands like Zara?

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


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