What Is Lean Manufacturing?

The best way to answer the question:’what is lean manufactuing’ is by giving a ‘lean’ answer. Lean manufacturing is simply the process of eliminating waste. It doesn’t matter if you are examining time or material, waste is waste.

Once you begin the process of looking at waste, it is alarming how much waste there is all around us! In manufacturing, it is critical to reduce waste to the minimum, in order to increase efficiency. Time is money, and so is waste.

Lean manufacturing is a comprehensive approach to eliminating waste from your operation. It is a systematic methodology that uses various tools to achieve the goal of reduced waste.

Several of the more popular tools are:

  • Kaizen

  • 5S

  • Value Stream Mapping

  • Six Sigma

These are more than mere buzzwords, however. Once you make the decision to change the culture of your business, you will discover that it is a lot like changing the course of a river: you can do it, but it takes a tremendous effort and you need a very good reason for doing it.

Fortunately, you have a very good reason, if you are in business: to increase your profits and make your operation better in every way. It is surprising how quickly morale improves when profits increase and working conditions continuously improve.

Lean Manufacturing is a process, not a destination

Because you can always do better, the process never actually ends, though you do reach plateaus where things can hum along very nicely.

A look at the more popular tools

  • Kaizen is a common sense tool that demands continuous improvement of anything it is applied to. A Kaizen event is used to attack an area, such as a manufacturing process or area to discover how to make it better. You stay with it until you get it as good as you reasonably can, then go to the next area.

This process was developed by the Toyota automobile company and has helped make them the most efficient car company in the world.

  • 5S is the very practical lean manufacturing tool that helps you systematically organize and keep organized any work area. It is much more than merely painting tool outlines on a pegboard! Once you get things organized, everyone is more productive and happier.

This is probably the best way to begin your journey, because you get immediate results and it makes sense to anyone involved.

  • Value Stream Mapping helps you to visualize your entire operation or just a portion of it. You make a visual map of where you currently are and a map of where you will be in the future. This is a great tool because it helps you see the true condition of the present, and provides a map of how to get where you want to be. Maybe I should have done this with my life years ago!

  • Six Sigma is a methodology to measure your progress. It is a scientific approach to keeping track of your waste as you strive for perfection. As such, it is an ongoing process because you can never attain perfection, but the closer you get, the less waste you have.

Lean manufacturing is a little bit the opposite of the thinking of many people. Usually people ask, how can I do more, or do what I do better. This approach asks, what effort and time am I wasting, where are my inefficiencies. By reducing waste, you increase productivity!