Lean manufacturing relies on the principle of efficiency with minimum waste.
In today’s profoundly consumerist society where people endeavor to obtain more possessions, it is an irony to say that in manufacturing consumer products, lean is in.
The concept of zero-waste does not only circulate among ecological zones, it seems. Lean manufacturing is a new buzzword in the industrial world which is rapidly gaining ubiquitous following. Lean manufacturing is a systematic approach to eliminate waste in the production process with the end goal of satisfying customers.
Waste is anything that a consumer refuses to pay for. The types of wastes in a manufacturing system include the following:
- overproduction or producing more, earlier or faster than required
- waiting for machines to process
- inventory or work in process because of large lot production or processes with long cycle time
- unnecessary processing
- transportation which hardly adds values to products
- excessive motion of workers, machines and transport due to inappropriate location of tools and parts
- making defective products and
- underutilizing people
The focus of lean manufacturing is to minimize the consumption of resources that adds no value to a product. As such, it is a process-focused production system which minimizes costs, maximizes customer options and ensures high quality and fast delivery of products and services.
The concept of lean manufacturing originated in Japan where, after WWII, it was necessary for manufacturers to develop a new, low cost manufacturing process.
Unlike their western counterparts, Japanese manufacturers needed to rebuild after the war and faced declining human, material and financial resources.
In the 1990’s, the concept of lean manufacturing was popularized in the U.S. by a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the movement of mass production toward the more streamlined Japanese production style.
This depicted essential elements which are used in lean manufacturing systems. The term lean was adopted because these methods used less human effort, capital investment, production space, materials and time in all operation stages.
All U.S. manufacturing businesses eventually applied lean manufacturing because of competition among U.S. and Japanese automakers over the last two decades.
Lean manufacturing systems recognize the fact that the value of a product is defined solely by the customer. Customers’ needs must be met at a specific time and price. The nitty-gritty of product operations is of no importance to customers.
This realization forces companies to comprehensively analyze business processes.
To apply lean manufacturing is to understand basic activities required to produce a particular product and to optimize the entire process from the point of view of the customer. This is important as it helps identify activities that clearly add value, those have no value-added and cannot be avoided and those that have no value-added and can be scrapped altogether.
Transition to a lean manufacturing system does not happen overnight. Lean manufacturing requires every level of organization to have a complete understanding of its basic principles and execution processes. Widespread orientations must be set to prepare and motivate people and to make them understand the need to switch to lean manufacturing.
After that, a mentality for continuous improvement is necessary to reach company goals. This means that the company aims for incremental improvement of products, and processes over time.
For this, employee involvement and an atmosphere of experimentation are essential. Decision-making and system development must be delegated. Willingness to take risks must be encouraged.
Improvements must be measured according to results vis-à-vis macro level targets not on number of activities undertaken. Because of the complicated nature of lean manufacturing systems, there is a need to execute pilot projects before spreading the culture across the organization.
The number of manufacturers attempting to become lean is increasing fast. Companies that have fully implemented lean manufacturing systems are rare. Although perfection is impossible, it is a goal that lean manufacturers strive for because it helps them be more vigilant of wasteful practices.