What you need to know about Lean Manufacturing

Currently, the Lean Manufacturing concept is being used in a lot of businesses under multiple names and for different industrial environments, but having always the same purpose: waste elimination to maximize efficiency. Understanding this, we can define in a clearer way what Lean Manufacturing is and how it works in companies’ processes to benefit customers.

Lean Manufacturing

This concept could be defined as a production philosophy for the optimization of all the manufacturing processes to strengthen them and be more competitive. In other words, is a working way that lets organizations to improve their procedures for adding value and benefit their customers.

What we just say could be a definition for Lean Manufacturing, but there is a concept mentioned above that we must contemplate: waste elimination. This term refers simply to avoiding all those activities and tasks that use more resources than what they really need. Put differently, it is the approach how businesses optimize their methods removing those actions like overproduction, waiting times, over transportation, among other things that make them more inefficient.

In conclusion, Lean Manufacturing is the system how companies can improve their processes removing all those elements that are considered unnecessary for their functioning, making them cleaner and simpler.

Wasting types

Knowing what the purpose of Lean Manufacturing is and the definition of waste, we can talk about the seven wasting types that are more common in today companies.

  1. Overproduction: this wasting type is the one that makes companies produce more than they need to supply customer’s demand. Basically, overproduction is when a specific business manufacture more products, creating larger inventories and using more resources for a non-existing or lower demand, increasing costs and times.

  2. Larger inventories: it is very related with overproduction. Larger inventories should be avoided, because, for their production, companies use a lot of time. Besides, high stocks consume other resources like space or staff for manage them, and businesses do not even know if they are going to monetize them or not.

  3. Goods transport: here companies should be very carefully because transportation could be very expensive and unnecessary. When organizations need to move their products, they should optimize this process to move what they really need, in the appropriate time and in the correct amounts, decreasing costs for being more effective.

  4. Waiting times: a lot of companies had production downtimes due to different situations. This is something that they should exploit, because these death times could be used for other activities within the manufacturing procedures, letting organizations optimize their resources all the time.

  5. Product movements: it is the way how companies move their physical and human resources in the workplace.

  6. Processes excess: as it was mentioned before, over processes is a totally waste of time because it is the way how companies repeat the same tasks, using more resources. In other words, reprocessing is one of the most dangerous waste types, because it makes companies to do things more than one time, which increases delivery times and costs. Organizations must improve their methodologies for doing things right for the first time, avoiding to repeat them.

  7. Defects: it is closely related to process excess item. Companies should avoid to the maximum defects for eluding reprocessing. That is to say, businesses should do their working activities correct in the exact moment to prevent replicating them.

To know and understand these types is very important for companies because it is the way how they can identify their errors to correct them for their improvement. If one organization does not know what is wrong, it will not be able to optimize its procedures to benefit clients and be more competitive.

lean-manufacturing_logistics
Image courtesy of ILO in Asia and the Pacific at Flickr.com

Brief history

The Lean Manufacturing concept is very related to the Just in Time philosophy and as other concepts and methodologies that we have seen in other articles, has its origins in Japan.

This methodology was created by Taiichi Ohno, a mechanic engineer who designed the Just in Time technique for Toyota. He started with the Kanban system, which is a cards method where workers can specify the needed production elements in a permanent and continuous way, evolving it later. Ohno was inspired by how Henry Ford’s plant worked and how its processes functioned, so he took all these concepts and ideas and improved them, giving origin to what we know today as the Just in Time methodology. Years later, JP Womack and Daniel Jones transformed this thinking in the Lean Manufacturing concept.

To comprehend the history of this concept and its meaning is very important because it shows us how and why it was created. If companies have this clear and know the roots of lean manufacturing and what it has behind, they would be able to apply it easier in their processes. In other words, if today’s organizations know all the contributions in manufacturing processes improvement given by Japan, they will understand in a better way its purpose is and its application.

Related: What you need to know about the Toyota Production System by David Kiger

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