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What Is Lean Manufacturing and How Can Businesses Deploy It Successfully?

Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing was where the business concept of lean principles originated. The original problem with manufacturing existed because there was a huge disconnect between designers, the manufacturing production line, and the end customers. As a result of these issues, lean manufacturing was born. It’s now been widely adopted in the decades since its original conception to improve overall efficiency and boost earnings too.

In this article, we cover lean manufacturing in more depth and how businesses can deploy it successfully too.

Why Was Lean Manufacturing Created?

Employees at Toyota originally developed the concept of lean manufacturing as a result of frustrations in the aforementioned disconnect between different departments.

Product concepts, their eventual production and (in the case of Toyota) sale through official dealerships created considerable lag in the system. If you can imagine potential customers at the dealership wanting a certain model with specific changes like color selection or extra in-car features, and that not being available, sales were being lost.

The salespeople could send the orders back to the manufacturing plant, but they weren’t well equipped to deal with custom orders. Instead, they had the production line tooled up to produce specific models in certain way. Flexibility wasn’t really their forte. This lack of flexibility was a problem for the salespeople who were hampered with not being able to sell the vehicles already in the showroom, or get models they really needed quickly.

The lack of innovation was also problematic where car manufacturers could easily fall behind ideas developed years ago by other manufacturers who had implemented them faster. Faced with a new trend that had passed them by, they were often unable to respond because their manufacturing systems couldn’t adjust fast enough. Essentially, manufacturing pushed out batches of the same products and were incapable of manufacturing to order.

What’s the Basic Idea Behind Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is used to address different goals and purposes. One of the central ideas is to make manufacturing more efficient. This includes keeping a reduced amount of inventory of parts and materials on hand. This ensures that less warehouse space is needed to store them. The inventory doesn’t become redundant when a newer part is released, turning said inventory into waste. Efficiency in all processes, along with flexibility about how manufacturing is completed, means that manufacturing plants act in a more innovative manner too.

Another idea borne out of lean manufacturing is to enable factories to produce products either individually, or to retool to create new batches of them much faster than before. The intention here is to respond quickly to new customer requests and a flurry of orders for a particular product by being able to produce them quickly. Doing so takes advantage of new customer trends that were previously unknown or have only recently surfaced.

A clear focus with lean is the removal or serious reduction in any kind of waste in the system. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of turning off the lights in rooms that you’re not using – yet it goes far beyond that. Inefficiencies in the system cause slower cycle times, a reduction in productivity, too much inventory sitting idle tying up working capital, and lowered productivity.

Many companies have a tremendous amount invested in production facilities, so there’s considerable room for improvement when being sparing with resources while not impacting final production capacity.

Businesses Can Start Being Lean by Adopting the 5 Principles of Lean

There is a good degree of overlap between lean principles and lean manufacturing. This is because lean ideology has a broad application. While it began in manufacturing, it’s now applied in various areas of business and enterprise.

The Lean Enterprise Institute created their 5 Principles of Lean as a guide to companies that sought to go into lean manufacturing or, in fact, adopt lean processes anywhere in their business. These are useful to briefly go over now to provide an initial guide to business owners or directors looking to implement lean in their manufacturing processes and who also need a starting point.

The 5 Principles of Lean are:

Value

The value is from the perspective of the customer. What product do they require, by when and how will it be delivered? What requirements do they have? What retail price makes sense, and can the product be produced profitably for the company? Put together, this collectively means value.

Value Stream

The value stream is translated as the various materials (or parts) needed to produce the product for the end customer. Value stream mapping is used to visually illustrate the step-by-step process needed to design, manufacture, and produce the final version of the product. The mapping includes different departments like administration, procurement, design, manufacturing, human resources, dispatch and the customer services team. All relevant departments are consulted to get their buy-in and ideas about how to complete the goal.

Using the value stream method, companies can cut down on wasted steps along the way that kill innovation, slow final design, impact procurement processes, and more.

Flow

The flow principle is where all waste has been removed from the process. From there, no major bottlenecks should get in the way. Reaching the goal of the final product is easily within reach when moving through the steps and getting in the flow state.

Pull

The pull principle is intended to allow the customers to make requests or place orders that pull what they want – the product – from the business. This ‘just in time’ production method is what lean manufacturing is perhaps best known for. It speeds up time to market, innovates quicker to market demand or changes, and saves money building up materials and parts across too many product lines.

Perfection

The perfection principle reflects the need to continually improve the lean production system that’s put in place. It’s never a stagnant thing with every company using lean manufacturing while implementing their own quirks and individual stages that make the most sense to them.

For directors or other executives interested in lean manufacturing, then taking a masters in lean manufacturing makes the most sense. Kettering University is currently the only university offering a comprehensive degree course that provides in-depth lean manufacturing expertise as well as a focus on Six Sigma too. They’re partnered with GM on their course too.

Learning about lean manufacturing (or pulling in an expert as a consultant) will provide the knowledge needed to move ahead. For any companies wanting to push their manufacturing forward, moving to the lean manufacturing process is well worth it.

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