Lean manufacturing is the practice of minimizing waste while maximizing productivity to improve manufacturing processes. Waste is defined as anything that customers don’t find value in and will not pay for.
Many executives and managers use lean manufacturing principles to cut waste, optimize processes, reduce costs, boost innovation and reduce time to market. The methodology can be applied across an entire organization with continuous monitoring and improvements made by employees at all levels.
If you want to learn how to implement lean production and manufacturing in the workplace, explore this guide that goes over the following:
What is lean manufacturing?
Lean manufacturing, or lean production, is a methodology that helps streamline and improve manufacturing tasks and services while saving time and money through eliminating waste. Early versions of lean manufacturing gained prominence at the start of the 20th century when large-scale assembly line manufacturing become popular.
However, it was Shigeo Shingo and Taiichi Ohno of the Toyota Motor Corporation who helped progress the idea of lean manufacturing in the 1950s. They created the Toyota Production System, which later became the foundation of lean production in the U.S.
Lean manufacturing was introduced to the Western world in 1990 with the publication of The Machine That Changed the World. The novel details how Toyota got to the forefront of the automobile industry through a process called lean production.
Today, lean principles have influenced manufacturing practices around the world and in other industries, including the healthcare, software development and service sectors.
Five principles of lean manufacturing
Lean manufacturing is divided into five core principles: value, value stream, flow, pull and perfection. Each serves a vital purpose in manufacturing.
- Value: The value of something is determined by the customer and how much they are willing to pay for products and services. The manufacturer or service provider then works to meet customer demand while eliminating waste and maximizing profits.
- Value stream: This involves analyzing the materials involved in making a product and identifying any waste. The value stream encompasses the entire lifecycle of a product, from raw materials to disposal. Each stage of the production cycle must be monitored for waste, and anything that doesn’t add value must be removed.
- Flow: The flow principle involves eliminating any barriers in the production or delivery of a service. The goals are to improve lead times and make sure that processes flow smoothly.
- Pull: A pull system involves only completing work when there is demand for a specific product or service.
- Perfection: Lean manufacturing requires ongoing assessments and improvements of processes to find the perfect system for the value stream. For example, measuring lead times and product cycles is necessary to achieve product process success.
Keep in mind that lean manufacturing requires that all employees, from team members to executives, effectively implement each principle to bring value.
Examples of lean manufacturing
The lean methodology is used across industries today. Though it was first applied within the automotive industry, it can help streamline a wide variety of production processes.
At its core, lean manufacturing is a production strategy that helps reduce times for delivery and response to customers’ questions. This is achieved by eliminating any process that doesn’t bring value.
Waste is any process that doesn’t provide value to a customer. Examples include:
- Unnecessary transportation
- Too much inventory and not enough demand
- Overproduction of a product
- Waiting on people or idle equipment
- Adding unnecessary features to a product
- Defects that are too expensive to correct
There are several lean manufacturing techniques that companies can adopt to improve their manufacturing process. Some common ones include: the Kaizen technique, 5S, six big losses, OEE, machine monitoring, and workforce intelligence.
Lean manufacturing terminology
Lean manufacturing has a plethora of terms associated with different stages of the product cycle. We’ve put together a list of some of the most important terms:
- Current state: The current view of the workflow.
- Product family: Grouping products based on similar processing methods.
- Future state: An improved or new view of the workflow.
- JiT: Just-in-time means giving what is needed, when it is needed and in the right quantity.
- One-piece flow: The practice of moving products from one workstation to the next one piece at a time to prevent inventory from building up in between processing steps.
- Takt time: The rate at which a customer uses products. It is calculated by dividing the total daily use time by the total daily customer demand.
- Monuments: Equipment that is too expensive or disruptive to move.
- Kanbans: A visual signal, usually a re-order card or container, that triggers a pull manufacturing system.
- The 5S’s: An approach for organizing the workplace.
- Kaizen: Continuously improving a product or service to strive for perfection.
- Work cell: A work cell is an arrangement of machines, labor and raw materials in a single area to manufacture a product.
- TPM: Total productive maintenance is an approach that focuses on supplying more equipment to reduce downtime from unplanned emergency repairs.
Enhance your Lean strategy with modern, digital technology
Lean manufacturing tools help businesses solve problems, measure performance, and optimize work processes. Measuring and improving productivity and efficiency are not new concepts, however, the rise of digital technology is making it easier and more practical for manufacturers to connect and digitize their operations and drive further improvements and enhance their lean strategy. Approaches that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and connected worker technology help to digitize manufacturing processes and uncover continuous improvement opportunities for improved worker efficiency and effectiveness. In practice, this may include digital work instructions and no-code tools to digitize and optimize entire manufacturing workflows.