Lean Manufacturing Working More Efficiently

How much waste does your organization produce?

For example, do you ever have to wait for someone else to finish a task before you can get on with your own work? Do you have a large inventory of unsold stock? Do you have more workstations than you need? Or do you order materials months in advance of when they are needed?

How about flexibility? If consumers want a modification to your product, can you quickly change your processes to meet their needs?

Waste costs you and your customers money. And if your customers have to pay more because of it, they might go elsewhere. Being competitive also requires a lot of flexibility. You must be able to meet the changing demands of your customers quickly and effectively, and adapt to a rapidly changing business environment.

So, how can you reduce waste and do things more efficiently? And how can you keep up with the changing demands of consumers?

First mentioned in James Womack’s 1990 book, “The Machine That Changed the World,” Lean Manufacturing is a theory that can help you to simplify and organize your working environment so that you can reduce waste, and keep your people, equipment, and workspace responsive to what’s needed right now.

A Brief History of Lean Manufacturing

Henry Ford was one of the first people to develop the ideas behind Lean Manufacturing. He used the idea of “continuous flow” on the assembly line for his Model T automobile, where he kept production standards extremely tight, so each stage of the process fitted together with each other stage, perfectly. This resulted in little waste.

But Ford’s process wasn’t flexible. His assembly lines produced the same thing, again and again, and the process didn’t easily allow for any modifications or changes to the end product – a Model T assembly line produced only the Model T. It was also a “push” process, where Ford set the level of production, instead of a “pull” process led by consumer demand. This led to large inventories of unsold automobiles, ultimately resulting in lots of wasted money.

Other manufacturers began to use Ford’s ideas, but many realized that the inflexibility of his system was a problem. Taiichi Ohno of Toyota then developed the Toyota Production System (TPS), which used Just In Time manufacturing methods to increase efficiency. As Womack reported in his book, Toyota used this process successfully and, as a result, eventually emerged as one the most profitable manufacturing companies in the world.

Lean Manufacturing Basics

The Lean approach is based on finding efficiencies and removing wasteful steps that don’t add value to the end product. There’s no need to reduce quality with lean manufacturing – the cuts are a result of finding better, more efficient ways of accomplishing the same tasks.

To find the efficiencies, lean manufacturing adopts a customer-value focus, asking “What is the customer willing to pay for?” Customers want value, and they’ll pay only if you can meet their needs. They shouldn’t pay for defects, or for the extra cost of having large inventories. In other words, they shouldn’t pay for your waste.

Waste is anything that doesn’t add value to the end product. There are eight categories* of waste that you should monitor:

  1. Overproduction – Are you producing more than consumers demand?
  2. Waiting – How much lag time is there between production steps?
  3. Inventory (work in progress) – Are your supply levels and work in progress inventories too high?
  4. Transportation – Do you move materials efficiently?
  5. Over-processing – Do you work on the product too many times, or otherwise work inefficiently?
  6. Motion – Do people and equipment move between tasks efficiently?
  7. Defects – How much time do you spend finding and fixing production mistakes?
  8. Workforce – Do you use workers efficiently?

Lean gives priority to simple, small, and continuous improvement such as changing the placement of a tool, or putting two workstations closer together. As these small improvements are added together, they can lead to a higher level of efficiency throughout the whole system. (Note that this emphasis on small improvements doesn’t mean that you cannot make larger improvements if they are required!)

Lean Manufacturing Process

The process has three key stages:

Stage 1 – Identify Waste

According to the Lean philosophy, waste always exists, and no matter how good your process is right now, it can always be better. This commitment to continuous improvement is known as Kaizen.

One of the key tools used to find this waste is a Value Stream Map (VSM). This shows how materials and processes flow through your organization to bring your product or service to the consumer. It looks at how actions and departments are connected, and it highlights the waste. As you analyze the VSM, you’ll see the processes that add value and those that don’t. You can then create a “future state” VSM that includes as few non-value-adding activities as possible.

Stage 2 – Analyze the Waste, and Find the Root Cause

For each waste you identified in the first stage, figure out what’s causing it by using Root Cause Analysis. If a machine is constantly breaking down, you might think the problem is mechanical and decide to purchase a new machine. But Root Cause Analysis could show that the real problem is poorly trained operators who don’t use the machine properly. Other effective tools for finding a root cause include Brainstorming and Cause and Effect Diagrams.

Stage 3 – Solve the Root Cause, and Repeat the Cycle

Using an appropriate problem-solving process, decide what you must do to fix the issue to create more efficiency.


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Tools to Reduce Waste

Once you have identified wastes using the three key stages above, you can then apply this next set of tools to help you reduce waste further:

  • Just in Time – This is the core idea of Lean and is based on the “pull” model. To minimize stock and resources, you only purchase materials, and produce and distribute products when required. You also produce small, continuous batches of products to help production run smoothly and efficiently. By reducing batch size, you can also monitor quality and correct any defects as you go. This reduces the likelihood of quality being poor in future batches.(In manufacturing, a key way of doing this is to use Kanban, below.)
  • Kanban – This is one of the key ways to involve people in the Lean process. Here, you support the Just In Time model by developing cues in the system to signal that you need to replace, order, or locate something. The focus is on reducing overproduction, so that you have what you need, only when you need it.
  • Zero Defects – This system focuses on getting the product right the first time, rather than spending extra time and money fixing poor-quality products. By using the Zero Defects system, you’ll reinforce the notion that no defect is acceptable, and encourage people to do things right the first time that they do something.
  • Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) – This helps you build flexibility into your production. For example, in the automotive industry, it could take days to change a line to produce a different car model. With SMED, the assembly process and machinery are designed to support quick and efficient changeovers. (Here, a “die” is a tool used to shape an object or material.)
  • The 5S Philosophy – Lean depends on standardization. You want your tools, processes, and workplace arrangements to be as simple and as standard as possible. This creates fewer places for things to go wrong, and reduces the inventory of replacement parts that you need to hold. To accomplish a good level of standardization, use the 5S System.

Apply This to Your Life

  1. Overproduction – Do you provide more data or information than is needed? Do you create reports more often than required for example? Or do you spend unnecessary amounts of time formatting these reports?
  2. Waiting – Do you spend too much time waiting for information or data from others, before you can do your work? What can you do about this?
  3. Inventory (work in progress) – Do you have a large stock of materials? Are your supply levels and work-in-process inventory too high?
  4. Transportation – Do things flow efficiently? Could you combine deliveries, or deliver things more quickly?
  5. Overprocessing – Do you needlessly work on something more than once?
  6. Motion – How is work passed along in your team? Do people understand what they’re required to do at each step? Do people and equipment move between tasks efficiently?
  7. Defects – How often do you find mistakes? Do you make the same mistakes on a regular basis?
  8. Workforce – Do you use your time wisely? Do you spend most of your time on activities that add value and are a high priority?
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Source @MindTools

Lean Manufacturing History

When people think of lean manufacturing they normally think that it began with Toyota and some go as far back as Ford and his production lines for the Model T ford, but depending on how you define lean, it has a very long history.

Origins of Lean

Ford put many ideas together when he first designed his production line for the model T Ford, however he did not invent very much of it himself.
The ideas of having interchangeable parts and the like were not new to Ford, they had been around for a long time, the principles had been used by Eli Whitney to manufacture muskets at the end of the 18th Century.
Production Lines were far from new, King Henry the 3rd watched the hourly production of Galley ships in 1574 through continuous flow processing, and Marc Brunel (father of Isambard) created production lines for the royal Navy in 1810.
Fredrick Taylor’s work on scientific management investigated workplace efficiencies and Frank Gilbreth  looked at motion studies. Both of their works influenced the design and functioning of the Ford production lines.
However Fords production lines were not flexible and they fostered very much a “them and us” attitude between the management and the workers on the lines, it was the management that did the thinking and the workers did as they were told.
Fords methods however worked for mass production and were highly effective during world war 2 where Ford helped to build Bombers at the Ford Willow Run plant and Boeing.

Lean History

Development of Lean Manufacturing

Development of the Toyota Production System

Sakichi Toyoda invented a weaving loom that was able to stop when it detected a broken thread. This enabled a single worker to be able to monitor several machines as the operator only had to intervene on an exceptions basis. This was the start of Autonomation or Jidoka; automation with a human touch, one of the important parts of the Toyota Production System and hence Lean Manufacturing.
Through selling the patents to this invention to Platt Bros in Yorkshire the Toyoda family were able to exit the textiles business and fund the start up of their automotive company – Toyota.

Toyota and the Quality Gurus

After world war two the US helped Japan rebuild its manufacturing capability, they did this by sending a number of “consultants” to provide aid and advice. The people that they sent were people like Deming who had no success at getting the Americans to listen to his philosophy with regard to Quality and Management. The Japanese however listened and learned, the Deming award now being the greatest award a company in Japan could gain.

Through Deming, Juran, Shewhart and the other consultants that were bought into help them Toyota and the other Japanese companies learned the importance of quality and satisfying their customers. They also learned the importance of involving their entire workforce in making improvements. Quality and respect for their people became very important for Toyota.
Toyota also listened and developed the concept of Just in Time (JIT), together with Jidoka this formed the two main pillars of the fledgling Toyota Production System (TPS).

Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno visited Ford to gain a greater understanding of how Ford was run, they also found huge inspiration from of all places American supermarket chains!

From Ford they saw how production lines worked and how processes could be broken down into manageable steps. They also discovered processes and ideas such as CANDO (Clean up, Arrange, Neatness, Discipline, Ongoing Improvements) which became the basis for their 5S system.

Kanban Pull System

Kanban enables pull systems

From the supermarkets they saw how the shelves only got replenished when customers removed produce; this ensured that the supermarket only had to purchase what the customers were buying  and could minimise their stocks. Something that was vital in an economy that was short of resources. This triggered the development of Just in Time and Kanban systems.
By the 1950’s the Toyota Production System was well into development, and Toyota was beginning its journey to out compete the rest of the world with regard to producing reliable quality cars.
In the 1960’s Shigeo Shingo developed the technique of Pokayoke (mistake proofing)  and Ishikawa devised the concept of Quality Circles giving the employees far more involvement in molding the future of Toyota.

Lean and the West

By the early 1980’s the west was begging to realize that the Japanese were out competing them and companies started to take a long hard look at what they were doing. Various consultants began to try to introduce their versions of the Toyota Production System under westernized names such as Continuous Flow Manufacturing, Stock-less production and World Class Manufacturing.

Companies in the West also tried to determine exactly what it was about Toyota that made them so good so they started taking individual ideas and trying to implement them in isolation such as quality circles or kanban systems.
It was not until 1990 that the results of an MIT study were published in the book titled “The Machine that Changed the World” by Womack and Jones that the world was introduced to the term Lean Manufacturing. Since then the name has stuck and Lean has gone from a “Must Have” in the Automotive industry to a technique that has been applied across almost every industry.
There are now many publications out there explaining the philosophy of Lean Manufacturing and the various Lean Tools in huge detail, there are also many consultancies out there selling business improvement through the application of Lean Manufacturing.


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The Rise and Fall and Rise of Lean

Like most management Fads and Philosophies Lean saw huge popularity at the start with many consultants appearing on the scene throughout the 80’s and 90’s offering to implement everything from 5S through to World Class Manufacturing. These consultants were jumping very much on the bandwagon of helping companies to compete effectively against the by now superior Japanese imports.

However many of these consultancies had very little idea of what lean was really about and no experience of implementing it! So many of these consultants would implement what they understood to be lean and try to make as many savings as they could so that they looked good to the companies that hired them. The savings more often than not vanished after a few months as soon as the consultants left the company and moved onto the next.

Lean therefore quickly gained a reputation as something that was implemented to remove people and cut costs and was not seen as something that was sustainable in the west. Many attributing the success of Lean in Japan to the attitude of the Japanese themselves, even though some of the most productive Toyota plants were actually located in places such as the States and were staffed by non-Japanese.

5S Training Course

In House 5S Training Course

Lean is still seen as a must have within the automotive industry and throughout its supply chain. It has also slowly been adopted into many other industries and even service areas. Lean for Health Care and even Programming are now areas where Lean is seen to be growing rapidly in popularity.

Even so many Consultants have seen the need to change the name to distance themselves from old bad press and misconceptions; now we have Agile manufacturing which focuses on being able to respond rapidly to changing customer demand and even Lean Sigma which seeks to combine the power of lean with the analytics and cost savings of Six Sigma.

Where will Lean be in the future?

Lean will continue to grow in popularity even if the consultants promoting it change its name. Leans aim of providing value to its customers means that it will always be applicable to any business. The Lean Tools however are going to develop and grow in much the same way as tools such as SCRUM have appeared for software development.

Lean Manufacturing, Lean for Service, Healthcare, Software and a host of other applications will continue to grow and tools will continue to evolve as customer needs change and grow also. Lean is not a set of static tools that can be applied according to a set formula but a philosophy of identifying customer’s perceived value and then providing it in the most economical way possible at their demand.

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Source @LeanManufacturingTools