Pros and Cons of Lean Manufacturing

For some time, many companies have been singing the praises of lean manufacturing, either as a standard lean production practice, or as lean six sigma, a combination of lean manufacturing principles and six sigma principles. But should you be implementing lean manufacturing in your organization? What are the pros and cons?

What Is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing can mean different things to different people and organizations, but at its core is the idea that eliminating waste from the manufacturing process is both possible and desirable.

Waste, in this case, is defined as anything that does not add value to the process for the customer. This idea of eliminating waste certainly seems like a desirable goal, but is it? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of lean production.

Pros of Lean Manufacturing Principles

While the pros of lean manufacturing may be readily apparent, it may help to outline them. Some of the major advantages of a lean manufacturing system can include:

  • Saving Money: Reducing waste means you are using all your available resources, and you are not paying for resources you don’t use. This saves you money on production costs.
  • Saving Time: Wasting time is another kind of waste that a good lean manufacturing system will help you eliminate. In addition, a more efficient manufacturing system allows you to make more products faster, so you are getting more productivity out of your limited time.
  • Saving Energy: Eliminating waste also means using more energy-efficient machines and finding alternative fuel sources instead of non-renewable options. Reducing energy consumption not only saves your company money, but it can also help protect the environment.

Cons of Lean Production

All of this sounds great, but what are the drawbacks to setting up a lean production system? These can include:

  • Upfront Costs: Revamping your entire production system — which may include buying new, more energy-efficient machines, putting in solar panels or other renewable energy facilitation devices or retraining employees — can require a layout of capital. It can also take precious time away from production as you restructure. Depending on where your company is, you may not be ready to sacrifice that much time and money for long-term benefits.
  • Disgruntled Employees: Part of the waste you may eliminate may include jobs in your factory that you don’t really need, but that a worker will depend on. Losing some employees may be inevitable in a lean production setup, which will naturally leave some employees grumbling.
  • Trial and Error: You may not get your lean system right the first time, and getting it wrong could be awkward and expensive. For example, you may come up with a way to eliminate waste that doubles production, but you end up producing more products than you can sell in a given time frame, which is just another form of waste.

Many managers seem to feel that the benefits of lean manufacturing far outweigh its problems, but you should evaluate the potential issues carefully before implementing your own lean production system.

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