The core idea of lean manufacturing, also known as “lean” is grounded on the notion of continuous elimination of waste from the manufacturing process. Lean was introduced in the 1990s by James Womack and has since then captivated the attention within the manufacturing industry.

What is waste?

Waste is considered any activity that does not add value to the customer. The main seven areas of waste that have been identified are:

  • Overproduction: More products are produced than the customers demand
  • Waiting: Inaction when a product is produced
  • Transport: Unnecessary movement of materials
  • Motion: Unnecessary people movement
  • Overprocessing: Repaired or remanufactured products
  • Inventory: Products waiting to be sold or to be further processed
  • Defects: Scrap parts that require work

Lean Benefits

Through the elimination of non-value added activities from manufacturing processes, lean fosters a culture of continuous improvement which in turn brings several benefits to the organization. First of all, the lean management philosophy results in reduced lead times and operating costs since non-value added steps are removed from the process. Moreover, reducing waste enhances service quality, increases effectiveness and undeniably enhances customer and employee satisfaction along with performance, profit, sales and other performance metrics.

Lean Implementation

The implementation of lean highly depends upon a structured plan directed to attainable targets within feasible time periods. Therefore, a clear selection and definition of the project scope are essential. Lean is often executed within teams involving personnel of all organizational levels in order to generate a comprehensive understanding of the entire process. Once lean processes are in place, it is important that the operation is regularly evaluated and assessed. If any errors or inefficiencies are found, it is vital that the firm takes immediate actions to correct them.

Barriers to Implementation

Although the lean management philosophy has been widely applied in the manufacturing industry, there are some barriers to the implementation of lean. Being aware of these barriers prior to the implementation of lean can help organizations overcome them.

  • Workforce surplus: Lean reduces lead times and it subsequently increases work efficiency. As a result, a workforce surplus may occur once lean is implemented.
  • Organizational resistance to change: The implementation of lean will require significant changes in the whole operational procedure. Resistance to change is often witnessed in many cases.
  • Lack of knowledge: Lack of knowledge in regards to the practices and tools of lean philosophy may inhibit the implementation of lean.
  • Lack of employee training and management support: Workforce needs to be trained and receive constant support in order for the lean culture to be embraced.

Lean wipes away the commonly thought tradeoff between quality and cost and its application is nowadays widespread in the manufacturing industry. By adopting a lean philosophy an organization instantly embraces a culture of continuous improvement which eventually brings many benefits without compromising on the quality of the end result. Many manufacturing giants have used lean within their manufacturing process such as Toyota, Ford, John Deere and Nike, proving that it might be one of the keys to success.