What is Lean Manufacturing? An Overview

This is a comprehensive overview of the main aspects of lean manufacturing, which is a very popular approach to help businesses, especially manufacturing, to reduce waste and increase efficiency.

The old way of thinking was to work harder, and produce more. The Lean approach is focused much more on eliminating waste and inefficiencies, which will increase quality and production as a result.

Main areas of focus

  • Lean manufacturing
  • 5S
  • Six sigma
  • Kaizen
  • Value Stream mapping

Lean manufacturing is the general term that encompasses the other topics. Each of the various aspects of lean are like spokes of a wheel, each one supports the other to make the wagon roll.


By far, the easiest program to begin the lean journey is 5S. This is because of the straight-forward nature of the application. Once a company embraces 5S in an integrated manner, the benefits are readily apparent.

5S is much more than slogans and banners, as are all the lean programs. It takes a huge commitment on the part of everyone involved to make it work. Once the decision has been made to move forward, top management needs to become visibly and actively involved. This direct involvement will act as a reinforcement for the workforce so they will feel a part of the program.

Six Sigma

Six sigma teaches how you can monitor and measure your progress, or lack thereof. It is a more scientific and specialized methodology than 5S.

Many lean consultants specialize in the application of six sigma. With their help, you can reap huge rewards by eliminating scrap and waste of all type. The rate of defects will dramatically decrease as the monitoring system is implemented.

The Motorola Corporation is actually the creator of this very useful and popular program. When the name Six Sigma is capitalized, it is because it is a registered trademark of Motorola.

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping is a powerful tool to help visualize the entire lean manufacturing process. It might appear complicated at first, but, as with other aspects of your program, when it is broken down into small steps it is really quite simple.

Many things that are taken for granted take on a totally unique perspective once seen in a new light. Value stream mapping does just that: it helps you to visualize where you currently are and where you ultimately intend to arrive. If you don’t know where you are going, how can you ever get there?


This is Japanese for continuous improvement. Actually, there are subtle meanings to this, but for our purposes, this is what it means.

One very popular methodology is the Kaizen blitz. These are like mini-events that strive to bring about lean changes. This is a great way to make incremental progress in your quest for perfection.

The Toyota car company is credited with the continuous improvement idea, and it has made them the most efficient automotive company in the world.

Lean manufacturing is here to stay and will increase in popularity with all types of companies, not just manufacturing.