What is Lean Manufacturing?

improvements with Lean manufacturing

Lean manufacturing encompasses a broad array of industrial philosophies, concepts, and strategies. It can be intimidating to first-time learners. As a result, it can be hard to know where to start. We can help with that. This two-part blog series was created to give you an overview of Lean manufacturing and its foundational philosophies in a two digestible spoonfuls.

Lean manufacturing is a business model that seeks to deliver high-quality products or services as efficiently as possible.

Lean is:

  • Eliminating waste wherever possible
  • Expanding capacity by shortening cycle times, and reducing costs
  • Understanding who the customer is and what is important to them

Lean is a mindset that teaches businesses how to know what value looks like to its best customers. Lean businesses search tirelessly and fearlessly for waste. Rather than stubbornly resisting change, Lean manufacturing encourages managers to keep an open mind to changing processes to improve efficiency. Rather than overstuffing inventories with inaccurate forecasts, Lean businesses produce only what the customer orders through a just-in-time production policy. Lastly, a must-have quality of every Lean business is to strive toward continuous improvement to keep quality improving and waste down.

Waste is the enemy of Lean. To help define what waste looks like, experts created the 8 Wastes of Lean:

  • Defects
  • Over-production
  • Waiting
  • Non-utilized talent
  • Transportation
  • Inventory overstocking
  • Motion
  • Excess processing

How does Lean eliminate waste?

Using various tools like OEE calculators, value stream mapping (VSM), and process mapping, Lean shaves off labor hours spent doing unnecessary labor. By cutting out excess steps, Lean improves lead/production time. Using Lean concepts like Six Sigma, businesses can reduce re-work time, which wastes valuable resources fixing defects in finished products.

Leaders of Lean

Lean borrows from a diverse pool of work and philosophy from a number of engineers and manufacturing experts. Below are a handful of experts whose ideas formed the foundation upon which Lean was built.

Edwards Deming—Often called the “godfather of Lean,” Deming developed quality-centered concepts that became the bedrock for most Lean methods. Deming then spread these ideas throughout Japan in the 1950s.

Taiichi Ohno—Led the development of the Toyota Production System.

Shigeo Shingo—Industrial engineer who was better known in the West than in Japan, Shingo was the author of more than a dozen books on TPS. The English translations of these books are responsible for the popularity of TPS across the world.

James Womack—Spearheaded Lean progress in the West with two influential works: The Machine That Changed the World and Lean Thinking.

Now that we know the history of Lean and the impact it’s had on the modern world, it’s time to focus on specific concepts that define what Lean is and how it helps businesses produce smarter.

Additional Resources