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Key Concepts of Lean Manufacturing

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Companies that are thinking about implementing a lean manufacturing strategy will need to spend some time learning about what this system is, and how it works. Lean manufacturing is a very beneficial system that incorporates a number of different concepts to help reduce waste, improve efficiency, and provide benefits to the entire organization. To get started with this process, make sure to have a good understanding of the following concepts that will typically be used in any lean manufacturing implementation.

Identifying Value

The goal of lean manufacturing is to have every action that is taken within a facility be directed toward providing value to the end customer. If a customer is not willing to pay for something, then it shouldn’t be done as part of the manufacturing process. One common example of this is when creating a widget, you may consider offering that widget in multiple different colors. If, however, that it is determined that customers will not pay any extra for this option, then it should be eliminated. Creating a widget in just one color is going to be easier and less costly than giving lots of options.

Part of identifying value is using a concept called value stream mapping. This is where you go through every aspect of the manufacturing process from beginning to end. Look at every single step involved and determine if it is truly adding value. If it is not, try to find ways to eliminate it, streamline it, or turn it into something that is creating real value for the organization.

Continuous Improvement

Lean manufacturing is not a strict set of procedures that needs to be learned, implemented, and followed. Instead, it is a continuous methodology that is followed long into the future to help ensure the company is always operating as efficiently as possible. The concept of continuous improvement is central to the lean manufacturing system as it encourages everyone in the company to always be looking for ways that things could be done better. This allows the business to regularly improve and remain competitive in your industry.

Waste (Muda) Elimination

Perhaps the best way to make improvements within a facility is to eliminate waste. When discussing lean manufacturing, waste is often referred to as ‘Muda.’ Muda is a Japanese term that translates to futility, uselessness, or wastefulness. It was one of the original concepts identified in the Toyota Production System, which is seen as where lean manufacturing got its start. When looking for ways to eliminate waste (muda) the lean manufacturing program will watch out for the seven types of waste that are commonly found:

  • Transportation – Any time products are needlessly moved around. Every time something is moved, it is at a greater risk of getting damaged or lost. If moving a product (or parts) is not adding value, it should not be done.
  • Inventory – Keeping excess inventory of products, parts, materials, and other things is wasteful in most cases. Inventory needs to be housed and taken care of, which can be costly. It also limits the ability to make changes or take advantage of market conditions.
  • Motion – When employees are moving around unproductively it is a big form of waste. While this can include employees doing things they should not, it more often refers to motion caused by ineffective planning. For example, If part of the manufacturing process has a part taken from one end of the facility to the other, then back again, it is wasted motion. Bringing the two steps in the process closer together will eliminate this motion.
  • Waiting – Any parts or products that are not being actively worked on because they are waiting for another step to be completed is an example of this type of waste. Proper planning can help to minimize the amount of waiting that needs to be done.
  • OverproductionCreating more of a particular part or product than is needed is a serous form of waste. It may make it necessary to sell the item for less than normal market value because you have to much of it and cannot efficiently store it until demand increases.
  • OverProcessing – Adding in products or services that customers are unwilling or unable to pay for is an example of the waste of over processing. The example of multiple colored widgets mentioned above is a form of over-processing.
  • Defects – Any type of defect in a product is wasteful because the product will either have to be fixed or scrapped, both of which take time and materials. Reducing the number of defects in production will have a very positive impact on the bottom line.

The concepts and strategies behind lean manufacturing can be quite broad, making it seem difficult to implement. In reality, however, no company can become a lean manufacturing facility overnight. This is a process that is learned and improved upon continuously throughout the life of an organization. Each step toward eliminating waste and improving the business will help to become a more fully lean business.

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