Development of lean manufacturing. Meaning and companies

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3 October, 2017

Development of lean manufacturing

In today’s world of global environmental consciousness, it has become more important than ever for manufacturers to find ways to minimise waste without compromising their ability to produce the goods and services needed by a growing population. Development of lean manufacturing is an ideal that many companies are moving towards as a way to maximise their efficiency. Here we discuss what lean manufacturing is, how companies can achieve this standard, and which companies are striving towards the ideal today.

Definition of lean manufacturing

Lean manufacturing, also known as lean production, is a method for making products in a way that releases as little waste as possible without sacrificing any productivity. It is inspired by the Toyota Production System developed by Japanese automobile manufacturer Toyota in the late 1940s.

The term “lean production” comes from John Krafcik of the MIT Sloane School of Management, and was popularised by the book The Machine That Changed the World. The definition of lean manufacturing is built upon three deviations from efficiency that need to be corrected: “muda” or wastefulness, “mura” or unevenness and “muri” or excessiveness.

How do companies achieve development of lean manufacturing?

There are two main strategies that companies use to obtain development of lean manufacturing. The first and more popular way involves implementing a number of tools designed to identify where waste is present and then gradually eliminate it.

One of the tools is Single-Minute Exchange of Die or SMED which involves minimising the amount of time that it takes to switch from one production process to another, thus making the overall process more smooth. There is also “poke-yoke” or “mistake proofing” which means implementing mechanisms to detect and correct likely human errors as quickly as possible.

Kanban or “queue limiter” is a tool that provides a complex inventory control system, making sure that innefficiency does not arise through failure to obtain and manage resources properly. Value stream mapping or material and information flow mapping is a tool for creating a representation of the flow of materials through your organisation; this overview will then allow you to see the points where this flow can be optimised.

The second method for reaching lean manufacturing is known as the Toyota Way, and focuses on flow and unevenness in the production process and does not attempt to target waste per se. It is thus more of a holistic, systemic approach to efficiency optimisation. This method requires a great degree of commitment, as it is more difficult than the first method. This is probably the reason it is less popular.

The Toyota Way first involves putting long term philosophical principles ahead of any short term goals or ideas. This way is committed to the idea that the right process will have the right results, and thus problems will become visible as the process is continually run.

The Toyota Way advocates dealing with problems through the traditional Japanese method of Kaizen or continuous and gradual improvement. Kaizen is a people-focussed method; it is seen as a more human approach to improvement because it involves teaching the workers to adopt a personal philosophy of continuous improvement, and to figure out ways to ameliorate the processes around them little by little everyday. Kaizen is inclusive and designed to reduce unnecessary exertion on the part of employees.

In terms of achieving the right process for the right results, the Toyota Way advocates a number of key principles: “pull” systems are implemented to prevent overproduction, workload is spread out evenly between people to avoid any one person being overworked, problems are never ignored when they arise but are dealt with straight away, processes are standardised where possible, everything in the process is kept transparent so that problems can’t stay hidden, and only reliable, well tested technology is used.

Which companies are promoting a lean manufacturing approach?

Following on from Toyota’s example, large American car manufactures have set their sights on an ideal of lean manufacturing. Ford, Chrysler and General Motors have been inplementing lean manufacturing strategies for almost a decade now. Despite general economic malaise in the United States, these three manufacturers managed to close the production deficit between themselves and their Japanese rivals through the lean strategies.

It’s not just car makers that are aiming to go lean. Clothing company Nike has been working with NGOs and the US Environmental Protection Agency to minimise waste. Computer company Intel has reduced its new chip introduction time from 14 weeks to 1 and a half weeks through lean techniques. To sum up, there are a lot of American companies that are promoting a development of lean manufacturing.