What Is Lean Manufacturing?

Emily Suzuki October 4, 2022 7 min read

Learn how your company can take advantage of lean manufacturing benefits, from reduced waste to improved product quality.

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The underlying principle behind lean manufacturing is rather simple; to continuously eliminate as much waste as possible in the manufacturing process. Reducing waste significantly maximizes profits and minimizes expenses, allowing companies to become more competitive. 

The lean approach focuses on capitalizing on a company’s resources to eliminate or minimize losses in effectiveness and efficiencies that would otherwise lead to stunted production. These wastes include everything from project management tools for manufacturers to employee skill sets. 

In lean manufacturing, waste refers to all the activities that use up resources without driving value to the end consumer. That said, only a small percentage of activities in the entire work process provides value to the customer if the industry is chock-full of waste. 

From unused materials to idle workers, all of which can’t be repurposed or recycled and reduce productivity, this emphasis on consistently minimizing waste is the foundation of lean manufacturing or production. Regardless of your industry, Autodesk Prodsmart has customizable solutions to help simplify production management and tracking. 

What is lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing or lean production refers to a methodology or collection of best practices designed to eliminate waste in the manufacturing process without compromising production. The goal is to remove all unnecessary activities that don’t contribute to the customer’s perception of value. 

Lean production rose to fame thanks to Toyota Production System, but it can be traced back to the Poor Richard’s Almanack by Benjamin Franklin. In it, he states that eliminating unnecessary expenses in the line of production could have a much more significant impact on profit than improving sales. 

How to practice lean manufacturing

As mentioned above, lean manufacturing comprises of various techniques designed to identify and reduce waste and increase efficiency. Production processes with uneven and overburdened workloads are the primary sources of waste. 

By eliminating waste, businesses can reduce production costs while simultaneously improving production quality and time. However, it’s worth noting that it’s often impossible to removewasteful activities or processes entirely because sometimes they’re a necessary evil. 

Some of the tools used in lean production include:

The Toyota Way is an alternative approach to lean manufacturing, and its main focus is streamlining workflow to eliminate unevenness. It has the same end goal as lean manufacturing; eliminating waste. 

Principles of lean manufacturing

The core principles of lean manufacturing are: 

Types of waste in lean manufacturing

One of the main hindrances to building efficient and robust work processes is wasteful activities. After careful observation, one of Toyota Production System founders, Taiichi Ohno, identified seven types of waste in lean manufacturing: 

Lean manufacturing goals and strategy

Eliminating or minimizing waste is vital to lean manufacturing, albeit there is a controversy on whom the end consumer is. For some, lean manufacturing is a methodology whose primary goal is to maximize profits, while for others, it works solely for the benefit of the end consumer.

The method’s focus is on improving efficiency throughout a product’s lifecycle without compromising quality. It emphasizes taking small, continuous steps toward sustainable changes instead of sudden drastic changes that will disrupt workplace systems. Doing so ensures that the personnel working with these materials, machinery, and processes will implement the changes moving forward.

The below steps to achieve lean manufacturing play a significant role in cutting production costs while allowing a company to maximize quality and, subsequently, product value.  

1. Improve Quality

For companies to become competitive and get an edge over their competitors, they must continuously evolve with their end customer’s dynamic needs and wants. Therefore, companies should develop processes and activities that meet its exact requirements and expectations. 

One way of doing this is through total quality management (TQM). It refers to a company-wide effort to drive success by doing everything necessary to improve customer satisfaction. 

The key to thriving in any market is to never become complacent. On that note, TQM’s primary focus is on providing an environment for continuously improving quality. 

2. Reduce Time

Lean manufacturing also focuses on reducing the time it takes workers to complete each stage of the production process, i.e., collecting material, packing, shipping, etc. One way of doing this is by evaluating employee movement on the factory floor. 

Some crucial questions are: 

This can be done by reorganizing how orders are presented, rearranging the inventory to have fast-moving items as close as possible to the shipping area, etc. It effectively reduces the time it takes workers to fulfill an order, adds value by driving efficiencies and helps cut costs. After all, time is money. 

3. Eliminate waste

Eliminating waste is an integral element of lean manufacturing and has grown to become a widespread business practice for cutting costs and optimizing limited resources. Doing so provides companies with the opportunity to identify significant areas that need to be improved to boost performance. 

That said, not all activities and processes in an organization add value to the end consumer; only a small percentage of the entire production process adds value.

However, some wasteful activities can’t be eliminated from the production process and are necessary. One example is product testing — customers don’t want to pay for it, but without it, there’s a high chance of compromising quality. 

4. Reduce costs

One way for companies to save money is by reducing wasteful or unnecessary activities that take up valuable resources, labor, and time. What’s more, according to a study by LERC—Lean Enterprise Research Center, nearly 60% of activities in the manufacturing process are wasteful and don’t add value from the customer’s perspective. 

Fortunately, lean manufacturing provides a unique opportunity to identify and improve these wasteful activities. The wide array of techniques allow companies to improve the product quality while simultaneously lowering production costs. 

Moreover, as we mentioned above, overproduction is a primary type of waste and incurs considerable costs in terms of storage and warehousing fees. By helping to identify the unnecessary movement of resources, lean manufacturing also helps cut costs for the extra machinery, space, and time. 

Improve operations with Autodesk Prodsmart

Lean methodologies provide businesses of all types, not just the ones in manufacturing, a unique opportunity to identify and eliminate waste from their production processes. When companies focus on continuously improving quality, they’ll be able to improve customer relations and maximize profits. 

From assessment of your production process to real-time reports and analysis, Autodesk Prodsmart has every service you need to improve your company’s operations. Learn more about how Prodsmart can help make your manufacturing process more efficient and successful today. 

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