What Is Lean Manufacturing?


Lean manufacturing addresses one of the worst things that can happen to any enterprise: waste. To not take full advantage of all of your resources is to lose efficiencies and, in so doing, stunt production. These neglected resources include everything from manufacturing project management tools, to the skills of the staff members.

Industry is, of course, rife with waste. Whether it’s idle workers or unused materials that cannot be recycled or repurposed, the results are the same: a drag on productivity. This insistence on eliminating waste and improving the manufacturing process is where the idea of lean as a management system developed.

Called lean manufacturing or lean production, the truth is that lean techniques like value stream mapping or just-in-time delivery can be universally applied for process improvement, inventory management and supply chain management. Lean manufacturing principles can help your business processes gain efficiencies and, as a result, become more effective and competitive in any marketplace.

What Is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is a production system that focuses on reducing waste, creating customer value and seeking continuous process improvement. This is achieved by applying lean project management principles, techniques and tools. The lean methodology was first implemented in the Toyota production system (TPS) which revolutionized the company’s manufacturing process.

Modernizing your project management tools can help your organization increase productivity and reduce waste. ProjectManager, an online project management software, has everything you need to streamline your processes and improve production quality. Build schedules with Gantt charts, execute tasks with task lists, track progress on dashboards and report on everything with built-in reporting features. Get started for free today.

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Lean Manufacturing Principles

Here are the five lean management principles that are applied to optimize lean manufacturing systems:

  1. Value: Before you start identifying and eliminating waste, you need to define what’s valuable for the customer. Once the customer defines what’s valuable for them, you can create a product that has only what’s necessary, and remove all the unnecessary work and components associated with it.
  2. Value Stream Mapping: A value stream map allows managers to visualize each step in the production process to identify waste and opportunities for improvement.
  3. Create Flow: One of the goals of lean manufacturing is process improvement. That is because once you improve the steps in the value stream, you can reduce your production lead time.
  4. Pull System: The pull system consists in starting new work only when there’s customer demand for it. This is what supports just-in-time production.
  5. Continuous Improvement: This lean principle consists in constantly using lean techniques like value stream mapping to find and eliminate waste.

It is through these lean manufacturing principles that the lean methodology helps improve production systems. It simplifies operational structure to understand, perform and manage the work environment. To do all this at the same time, Toyota applies a mentoring methodology called Senpai and Kohai, which translates to senior and junior. This fosters lean thinking throughout an organizational structure from the group up.

Related: 10 Free Manufacturing Templates for Excel

Types of Waste in the Lean Manufacturing Process

Waste is not a simple concept in lean management. If approached simply, then the reduction is going to be limited. In order for lean project management to be most effective, all types of waste must be identified and eliminated. We’ll go over eight types of waste in lean management.

First, let’s look at the seven lean manufacturing waste types developed by Taiichi Ohno, chief engineer at Toyota, for the Toyota production system (TPS).

  1. Unnecessary transportation: Unnecessary transportation of employees, tools, materials or equipment is a waste that must be eliminated by optimizing factory layouts.
  2. Excess inventory: Having excess inventory can lead to several problems like not identifying defective products in time or increased lead time in the production process, among others.
  3. Unnecessary motion of people, equipment or machinery: This waste is eliminated by applying scientific management techniques to optimize the motion that people, equipment or machinery do during the production process.
  4. Waiting (Idle Workers or Idle Equipment): This waste type occurs when employees can’t work because they’re waiting on materials or equipment, or in the opposite case, there can be idle equipment waiting on maintenance.
  5. Overproduction: Overproduction leads to excess inventory and other issues in the manufacturing process. That’s why lean manufacturing implements the just-in-time production method which consists in only producing what is demanded by customers.
  6. Over-processing: This waste consists in adding components or features to a product that are not required by the customer, which makes them unnecessary.
  7. Defects: Having defective products it’s a waste that must be reduced as much as possible. They can affect customer satisfaction and increase costs.

In addition to these waste types, lean manufacturing experts have proposed an eighth waste type called “unused talent or ingenuity”, which occurs when workers’ opinions are not taken into account when identifying waste types and improving manufacturing processes. Their feedback is important because they get to experience issues every day and their thoughts can be very helpful in the value stream mapping process.

To simplify things and make it easier to understand for your team members, these waste types can be grouped into 3 broader categories.

Mura: Unevenness, or waste due to fluctuations in demand. This can come from customer requests, but it can also be due to an organization adding new services and thus additional work.

Muri: Overburden, or waste due to trying to do too much at once. This has to do with resource allocation. When too few people try to do too much work, they often waste time switching from one task to another.

Muda: Non-value-adding work, or process waste. This waste comes as a byproduct of something else. Think about three things: value, work that adds immediate value for a customer; necessary waste, which is supporting activities that add value; and unnecessary waste, activities that don’t add value. Therefore, lean maximizes value, minimizes necessary waste and removes unnecessary waste altogether.

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Lean Manufacturing Tools

To apply lean principles to your manufacturing process, you’ll need a set of lean manufacturing tools to help you identify and eliminate waste. That waste can be created through overburdening and unevenness in workloads. The removal of waste from any manufacturing system improves quality and production time while reducing cost.

Some of those lean management tools include:

  • SMED (single-minute exchange of die, which is a fast way to move from one manufacturing process to another)
  • Value stream mapping (A value stream map allows managers to visualize each step of the manufacturing process to identify process improvement opportunities)
  • 5S (a workplace organization methodology)
  • Kanban boards (visualizes workflow)
  • Poka-yoke (error-proofing)
  • Total productive maintenance (improves integrity and quality of manufacturing process)
  • Rank order clustering (production flow analysis)
  • Single-point scheduling
  • Redesigning working cells
  • Multi-process handling
  • Control charts (for checking workloads)

Other ways to approach lean manufacturing are just-in-time manufacturing or the Toyota Way, as it was developed by the company for its famous Toyota production system (TPS). Here the focus is on improving workflow to remove unevenness as opposed to wastefulness. Kanban boards are essential for this type of lean management.

The goals for both approaches are the same, but the means to achieve them are slightly different. In the Toyota Way, improving production workflow is the goal, but in doing so waste is also eliminated naturally. Proponents of this production process state it takes a system-wide perspective as opposed to a lean production system that focuses solely on waste removal.

Lean Manufacturing Benefits

Reducing or eliminating waste is essential to lean project management, but the benefits of lean manufacturing can be different depending on who is asked. Some say it is increasing company profit while others maintain its improvements are solely to create customer value and increase customer satisfaction. Some common goals follow.

  • Improve Quality: To stay competitive, companies can’t be complacent but must meet customers’ changing wants and needs. Therefore, processes must be designed to meet their expectations and requirements. Adopting total quality management can make quality improvement a priority.
  • Inventory Management: Thanks to the just-in-time production method, lean manufacturing reduces excess inventory, which reduces costs and prevents production issues.
  • Process Improvement: Lean production systems are always being improved, thanks to the “continuous improvement” lean principle. Value stream mapping it’s essential for this.
  • Eliminate Waste: Waste is bad for costs, deadlines and resources. It takes without adding any value to a product or service. By eliminating waste, a lean manufacturing system can produce better products, at lower costs.
  • Reduce Time: Time is money, as the adage goes, and wasting time is therefore wasting money. This is especially true for the manufacturing industry. Reducing the time it takes to start and finish a project is going to create value by adding efficiencies. Learn and apply some time management strategies.
  • Reduce Total Costs: Money is saved when a company is not wasting time, materials and personnel on unnecessary activities. Overproduction also adds to storage and warehousing costs. Understanding the triple constraint is the first step to understanding cost management.

How ProjectManager Helps With Lean Manufacturing

Using project management software with features that assist in that ambition, such as ProjectManager, is the perfect way to pursue lean manufacturing. You can do this by visualizing the workflow to avoid bottlenecks and give teams only the work they have the capacity and resources to complete.

This is where our kanban project view comes in. The board-and-card system offers transparency into the different stages of production. Cards, which represent tasks, can be moved throughout the board to convey progress, giving teams a quick look at the most pressing tasks.

Product backlogs can be managed in this fashion, and the production flow is controlled for greater productivity.

ProjectManager's kanban board

Easily Measure and Report Your Progress

To improve processes, another fundamental for lean, you need data. How are your processes doing? Are they meeting your planned expectations? To measure this, use our real-time dashboard that automatically monitors six key project metrics and displays them in colorful, intuitive graphs. See at a glance how you’re performing in real time—and with single click reporting, share key data points to keep the team informed.

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Related Content

If you’re in the market for reducing waste, improving efficiencies and adding to your productivity through lean management, then you’ll want to use tools that can enhance your workflow, resource allocation and monitoring. ProjectManager is the perfect cloud-based project management software to assist you every step of the way. Cut waste today by trying ProjectManager with this free 30-day trial.

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