Lean Manufacturing: Trimming The Fat

Lean manufacturing is a process of continuous improvement based on finding and reducing waste. It was originally developed by Toyota, but can be applied across many industries and can help manufacturers maintain a competitive edge by keeping costs low and operations efficient.

The process begins by defining which activities add value to the product, or in other words make it more desirable to customers. Any other activity during production is classified as waste and should be reduced or eliminated. Manufacturers have become so accustomed to many types of waste that identifying the problem is an important step.

The Main Forms of Waste:

Motion: workers having to walk around to look for tools, parts, or people

Waiting: idle time spent waiting on approvals, materials, information, or repairs

Defects: design errors, material flaws, or inspection errors

Transportation: inefficient material flow through the plant or operation

Overproduction: extra inventory requires space to be stored, extra product may be scrapped

Ways to Reduce Waste:

Standardized Tasks: There is usually one way to perform a task most efficiently, which minimizes defects and wasted materials and motion. This standardized task should be recorded and used in training.

Balanced Flow: Once standard tasks are established, the amount of time and materials required should be known. Staffing and material flows should be balanced, so workers have to do minimal walking, waiting, or material handling.

Workplace Organization: If all tools, materials, and parts have an assigned space and stay in that space, without clutter or misplaced items developing, then workers remain efficient by not having to search for the things they need.

Plant Layout: Departments and workstations should be designed to streamline material and inventory flow and to minimize walking and transportation costs.

Inventory Reduction: Improved production scheduling can cut down on the costs for handling and storing excess inventory.

Team Problem Solving: By actively including all levels of employees in lean manufacturing planning and implementation, standardized tasks can be made more efficient and employee turnover and retraining costs are often lower.

If management commits to the process of lean manufacturing and continues to make gradual improvements throughout the business, then ultimately the company will show results through lowered costs, improved productivity, and improved quality.