Lean manufacturing or lean production is a business and operations improvement methodology and culture which has as its foundation and main objective to minimize wasted resources, maximize the output in a value adding process with a set amount of inputs and reduce costs . This is usually achieved by building efficiencies attained from streamlining and optimizing processes, the use of technology, production plant optimization and setup, introducing pull and just in time production methods, enhancing employee culture and skills, efficient materials management, improving housekeeping and discipline standards, among others.
Lean manufacturing also focusses only on the attributes and value adding processes that the customer is willing to pay for. This is why Lean manufacturing is a customer driven culture and business improvement methodology.
The identification of wasted resources and inefficiencies can be achieved by the use of many lean techniques, tools and methodologies, many which originated from the automotive manufacturing sector but which have been applied successfully to many industries and processes, not only manufacturing, thus allowing a wide array of business and operations achieve substantial savings and competitive advantages over competitors.
The Lean Manufacturing system focusses on systematically removing all of the seven types of waste or Muda as called in Japanese:
- Over- production
These are sometimes referred to as TIMWOOD due to the first letter of each type of waste.
In some instances Lean Manufacturing can be referred to in very simple terms: "eliminating waste", "doing more with less", "smarter way of doing things" or "maximizing outputs and minimizing inputs"although simple terms they relate to the objectives of a lean production system or process.
Lean Manufacturing System
As an example, under a typical lean manufacturing production system, customer orders or demand will usually determine the production schedule. Most activity in the production process will revolve around customer demand from one process to the next. Only the resources that are needed are ordered and used.
In a well setup system like this one the factory or production line is able to operate with little or no work in progress inventory and finish goods stock allowing the business to achieve better cash flow over the medium to long term and a superior cost position versus competitors.
The quality of output from each process or machine along the production line or value adding process should be of acceptable quality to continue to the next step or workstation. The output quality and throughput rate must be reliable and stable. This is usually achieved through training and skill building for employees and operators, correct tools, machines and technology as well as a reliable quality system which comprehensively monitors and corrects issues from raw material supply to logistic operations.
Lean manufacturing is not only a short to medium term change in culture, training and process. It enforces continuous learning and adapting to an ever changing world and customer were improvements in the operations of a business can always be achieved and improved upon.
More lean concepts and terms