An introduction to the world of lean manufacturing: The why, what and how of manufacturing excellence

lean manufacturing
Digital Transformation

An introduction to the world of lean manufacturing: The why, what and how of manufacturing excellence

What is lean manufacturing? 

Lean manufacturing is a philosophy that adopts a systematic and strategic approach to drive continuous improvement and sustainability through holistic elimination of inefficiencies and waste throughout an organization. 

As opposed to blindly following a set of prescribed rules and guidelines, lean manufacturing requires you to orient the prevailing mindset in your organization towards learning, innovation and agility. 

The advent of the lean manufacturing philosophy can be traced back to the guidelines established by the Toyota production system. Some of the concepts involved in this system include: Measurement of every aspect of production using KPIs, data visualization, value stream mapping, and a demand based pull approach to manufacturing. 

That being said, let’s dive into the fundamental principles of lean manufacturing! 

The Five Principles of Lean Manufacturing 

Most organizations that decide to implement a lean manufacturing strategy start by deploying a 5S strategy, which basically is a collection of principles that enable a company to set up more organized, efficient, and clean spaces throughout, laying the foundation for deeper and more complex lean strategy tactics. 

Here is what each “S” in the 5S stands for: 

1. Sort

 Sort through items and separate that which is needed and used more often from that which is rarely used.

2. Straighten

 Every item should have a designated place that workers can visit to retrieve the item and return when they’re done. Tools and other items should always be ready and easy to use. They should also be arranged well to enable employees to access them with ease.

3. Shine

 Beyond the clean-up job that occurs in the first and second S’s, shining refers to the process of regular cleaning, which ensures that other living standards can be upheld and defects don’t go unnoticed under inches of dust and grime. In addition, this step also includes preventive and predictive maintenance. 

4. Standardize

 Standardize, the method to maintain the first three pillars, creates a consistent approach with which tasks and procedures are done. The three steps in this process are assigning 5S (Sort, Set in Order, Shine) job responsibilities, integrating 5S duties into regular work duties, and checking on the maintenance of 5S.Some of the tools used in standardizing the 5S procedures are: job cycle charts, visual cues (e.g., signs, placards, display scoreboards), scheduling of “five-minute” 5S periods, and checklists. The second part of standardize is prevention which refers to the process of preventing accumulation of unneeded items, preventing procedures from breaking down, and preventing equipment and materials from getting dirty.

5. Sustain

 Sustain, making a habit of properly maintaining correct procedures, is often the most difficult S to implement and achieve. As the saying goes, old habits die hard. Changing deep-rooted behavior patterns can be difficult and the tendency is often to return to the comfort zone of the old way of doing things. 

 Sustain focuses on defining a new status quo. Tools for sustaining 5S include signs and posters, newsletters, pocket manuals, team and management check-ins, performance reviews, and department tours. 

 Organizations typically seek to reinforce 5S messages in multiple formats until it transforms into the new normal!

The Benefits of Lean Manufacturing

Here are a few common benefits that you stand to reap by introducing lean manufacturing into your business:

1. Waste minimization

 Lean manufacturing can efficiently minimize waste within a production facility. This is probably the most significant advantage of lean manufacturing. Common areas where waste is generated in manufacturing include motion, inventory, waiting, overproduction, defects, logistics, and over-processing.

2. Inventory management

 Lean manufacturing lowers excess inventory by employing just in time production. JIT production helps lower costs and prevents bottlenecks in the production process. In addition, you can also leverage the power of a holistic inventory management system to optimize inventory control and stock management. 

 3. Process improvement:

  Continuous improvement is a fundamental principle of lean manufacturing. Also referred to as Kaizen, which means “change for the better”, CI focuses on enhancing manufacturing processes consistently to achieve and maintain the highest standards of quality and cost-effectiveness. In addition, continuous improvement also increases productivity, reduces waste, and improves employee satisfaction levels.

Five wastes of lean manufacturing

1. Unnecessary transportation 

 Excess movement primarily occurs due to poor organization of the workplace. This makes the process of moving goods from one place to another quite cumbersome. For example, let us consider a manufacturing facility, where a warehouse is quite distant from the production site. Unnecessary transportation of workers, tools, products, and equipment is a wasteful activity that you must strive to overcome by optimizing the production layout. 

2. Excess inventory 

 Unnecessary inventory is usually generated by inaccurate forecasting, overproduction, and poor communication between manufacturing and purchasing. Excess inventory can cause a variety of issues which include delayed detection of defective products, and longer lead times in the manufacturing process.

3. Defects

 When something isn’t working right, there is waste accompanied by a loss of profit. Poor quality or inconsistent products, sub standard machine repair, excess inventory levels, and even a lack of documentation can all qualify as defects.

4. Excess processing

Over-processing occurs when processes move too slowly or are too cumbersome to be efficient. In such a situation, processes become a hindrance to progress rather than a necessity. A few common examples of wasteful processing include slow approval processes and excess reporting.

5. Waiting

Spending time waiting is a hindrance that stands in the way of efficient production. There are several reasons why employees might have to wait around and these include unplanned downtime, idle equipment, mediocre communication, and long set-up times. 

In a nutshell

Needless to say, there’s a whole lot more to lean manufacturing than we have covered in this blog. In the next article of this ultimate guide, we will explore some other wastes of lean manufacturing, tools that you can leverage, and techniques that you can use to get started.

Until then, stay tuned!