What Is Lean Manufacturing, and How Can You Master It?

You cannot be in the manufacturing business for very long these days without hearing about “lean manufacturing.” For many, lean manufacturing seems to be the obvious way of the future. However, some think it is just a fad, while others fear it or simply don’t quite understand it.

No matter which category you fall into, the ability to eliminate waste — whether it’s in your processes, product manufacturing, costs, etc. — will likely benefit your operation. Read on for more details on how to learn and implement lean manufacturing.

What Is Lean Manufacturing?

Before you attempt to master lean manufacturing, it’s important to have an understanding of what lean manufacturing is. Lean manufacturing is not a specific process so much as a philosophy. Different manufacturers may apply that philosophy in different ways, but the heart of it is a focus on eliminating waste in the manufacturing process. If you want to be a lean manufacturer, you have to trust that the process of eliminating waste, even if costly and time-consuming initially, will be worth it in the end.

How Can I Learn and Master Lean Manufacturing for My Business?

If you want to master lean manufacturing, you need to make a commitment to eliminate waste from your company and your processes. We define waste as anything that does not add any value to the manufacturing process from the consumer’s point of view. How do we show this commitment?

The first way is to take a hard look at your production system and be prepared to completely tear it down and start over if the system is wasteful. This may mean replacing your old, but still functional machines with ones that are more energy-efficient or that produce less scrap, adding solar panels, eliminating employees or adding employees. As you might imagine this process can be costly, unpleasant and even painful, so you must be sure it is worth the sacrifice before you commit to lean manufacturing.

Hand-in-hand with that step is to prepare your employees for the new culture. While some will likely be all for it, others may not, especially if it involves them taking on new jobs or responsibilities or having to learn to work with new machines. It’s better to find out up front who is on board and consider replacing those who aren’t to reduce the risk of process sabotage later.

Finally, you will need to carefully observe the process and analyze the data. You need to be honest with yourself about whether your tactics are really eliminating waste or if you need to try a new approach.

Why Should I Master Lean Manufacturing?

You attempt to master lean manufacturing because you are focused on long-term goals. Once you finally have a lean system in place, you should expect a much more efficient work environment, with lower costs, greater productivity and less lost time. Lean manufacturing, when done correctly, can be better for the environment, better for your employees and better for your business. If you are truly committed to the process and stick with it, you can see great rewards from the lean manufacturing philosophy.

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