What is Lean Manufacturing?
Lean manufacturing is a waste reducing manufacturing technique that considers any invaluable practice, procedure, product, or service, a form of waste. Essentially, anything that doesn’t add value to the customer is considered wasteful. The technique, in turn, benefits product quality, customer relations, profitability, and warehouse safety.
Toyota Production System is known as the first to use this technique. Their goal was to be competitive in the automotive industry but they didn’t have as many resources as larger manufacturers like Ford. Because of this, they had to perfect a different style of manufacturing. Lean manufacturing was the product of this. Now being recognized as one of the most successful manufacturing system, the technique is a great route for many other companies to take even outside of automotive manufacturing.
How does it work?
Lean manufacturing does away with big inventory and over production. The term “just-in-time manufacturing” is often compared to lean manufacturing. Products and produces are based heavily on the demand of the customers. The goal of a lean manufacturing system is to reduce waste and only produce the products that are needed. With this heavy focus on producing for customer needs, the quality of the product increases as well.
Given that eliminating waste is a key principle in lean manufacturing, one obvious benefits of lean manufacturing is waste reduction. There are countless types of waste that this principle focuses on in order to benefit a company. The wastes that are focused on include both tangible and intangible ideas. Waste of transportation, inventory, waste of motion, over-processing, over production, waiting, transport, and defects are all thought of as wasteful.
One of the main focuses in lean manufacturing is the customer. Catering to the needs of the customer, and their satisfaction is everything when using this technique. Lean manufacturing ideals consider anything that doesn’t benefit the customers’ needs as wasteful.
Efficiency and Profits
The formula of a lean manufacturing philosophy often results in increased efficiency and profitability. Reducing the waste in a company along with working heavily on customer relations improves these areas in a manufacturing operation.
Product quality becomes a huge focus when following lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing considers two principles that assist in good quality production, “Poka-yoke” and “Jidoka”. These principles focus on mistake proofing and automatically detecting abnormalities. Constantly monitoring and correcting mistakes through poka-yoke, boosts a product’s quality. Jidoka requires that abnormalities or defects be detected through automation in order to avoid human errors.
Organization and Safety
A key part of a lean manufacturing environment is not having a warehouse cluttered with inventory. Products are manufactured as the customer needs them. With less inventory in stock, there is less clutter in a warehouse, which creates a more organized and safer environment.
Is Lean Manufacturing Right for You?
With the many benefits that come out of lean manufacturing, being aware of the downsides is important before making the switch. Lean manufacturing can be a risky system because it leaves very little room for error. With little inventory stored, it is easy to fall behind in the case of a machine malfunction or delay in delivery. Additionally, the implementation cost of lean manufacturing is high. This process requires a complete shift in how a company operates, which also requires the retraining of employees.
Lean manufacturing is a great option for many manufacturing companies. In many cases the benefits outweigh the downsides. That being said, lean manufacturing can be a risky system for a manufacturing company if it is not the right fit. Carefully evaluating whether lean manufacturing is right for an operation is crucial before making the switch. Lean manufacturing is a great system to operate on for many manufacturers. Given that it is a fit for an operation, manufacturers should consider making the switch.
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