What is Lean manufacturing?
According to its definition on the Business Dictionary, lean manufacturing is:
Doing more with less by employing ‘lean thinking’. Lean manufacturing involves never ending efforts to eliminate or reduce ‘muda’ (Japanese for waste or any activity that consumes resources without adding value) in design, manufacturing, distribution, and customer service processes.
Lean Manufacturing is, therefore, all about the optimizing processes and eliminating waste. These seemingly simple efforts can greatly help with cutting costs while still delivering a high quality product customers want and are willing to pay for.
The Lean approach is based on thoroughly evaluating your process to find what you’re doing right and remove or adapt all steps that may be possibly generating waste. This waste is called muda and encompasses anything that doesn’t add value to the end product.
It’s essential to stress that cutting costs according to what Lean proposes doesn’t mean compromising the quality of the product in any way. You’ll only cut costs by finding better, more efficient ways to do the same things.
By adopting a lean philosophy, you enjoy the benefit of continuous improvement. It means that instead of making rapid, irregular and abrupt changes that are disruptive to the workplace, you’ll make small and sustainable changes.
By doing so you’ll ensure that the people who actually work with these processes, equipments, and materials will take the changes forward.
The concept of Lean manufacturing
James Womack’s first mentioned the concept of Lean manufacturing in his 1990′ book, “The Machine That Changed the World“.
It was defined as a theory that could help simplify and organize your work environment to reduce waste and keep your people, equipment and workspace responsive to what’s needed right now.
So, how can you reduce waste and do things more efficiently without compromising the quality of the result? On top of it all, how can you keep up with the changing demands to respond as fast as possible?
Waste costs you and, consequently, your customers money. If your waste is responsible for making your customers pay more for your product/service, they might go elsewhere that delivers the same quality at a lower price.
Being competitive in a market where everyone else is also fighting to stay competitive requires a lot of flexibility (aka being able to respond as fast as possible to changes in demand).
Focus on the customer
To find the efficiencies, lean manufacturing adopts a customer-value focus. It consists in asking “What is your customer willing to pay for? What does the customer value?”.
Customers want value, and they’ll only pay if the value your product/service offers can meet their needs. They shouldn’t pay for defects, or for the extra cost of having large inventories, for example.
In other words, they shouldn’t pay for your production problems or for the unnecessary waste you generate. As I pointed out before, waste is anything that doesn’t add value to the end product. There are eight categories* of waste that you should monitor:
Categories of waste:
- Overproduction: Are you producing the right amount to meet your consumers demand or are you going overboard and generating unnecessary storage costs?
- Waiting: How much lag time is there between your production steps? Does someone have to wait for someone else to finish a task before they can begin theirs? Idle time means you’re paying for an employee to stay there doing nothing while he/she waits.
- Inventory (work in progress): Are your supply levels and work in progress inventories too high? Do you buy too much raw material that needs to be stored for a while before it’s used?
- Transportation: Do you move materials efficiently? Are your working with the transportation alternatives that offer the best rates?
- Over-processing: Do you work on the product too many times, or otherwise work inefficiently?
- Motion: Do people and equipment move between tasks efficiently?
- Defects: How much time do you spend finding and fixing production mistakes?
- Workforce: Do you use workers efficiently?
The first seven sources of waste were originally outlined in the Toyota production system (TPS), and were called muda. Lean Manufacturing often adds the eighth “workforce” category.
Lean prioritizes simple, small, and continuous improvements. Instead of revolutions, focus on changing one small thing at a time, such as changing the placement of a button on a page. Do it like this adorable puppy, one step at a time.
As these small improvements are added together, they can lead to a higher level of efficiency throughout the whole system.
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