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The Beginner’s Guide to Lean Manufacturing and Process Optimization

Every company looks to find ways to improve itself, and this is just as true in the manufacturing industry. However, many in the niche may not realize how they can do so or what processes they can utilize.

For the past several ways, one process that’s become increasingly common is lean manufacturing. Despite its rising popularity, there are many in the niche that may not know much about what it is, despite how vital it can be for a business.

Using lean manufacturing techniques can improve the majority of companies. There are several things you’ll need to know about it before you can implement it successfully.

What Is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is the process of removing waste from manufacturing while keeping productivity high. There are several systems in place to do so, with the approach being based on Toyota’s Production System, as well as several other factors.

Also known as lean production, or simply lean, the process is based on several core principles, with one of the most notable being continuous improvement or Kaizen. There are several benefits to the approach, including improved production quality, better lead times, and reduced operating costs.

These advantages have meant that the approach has been adopted into several industries, such as software development, services industries, and healthcare, among others.

History Of Lean Manufacturing

While there were a variety of developments in the industry’s early years, much of the current lean manufacturing processes stem from the Ford System. Henry Ford, as well as his right-hand-mand, developed a strategy that helped to increase efficiency and productivity while decreasing waste.

Much of this was done through the arrangement of the production process into a continuous system. This allowed for Ford to decrease overall costs and offer the Model T car at affordable prices, leading to the company becoming successful over the following years.

The success that the company saw led to many companies adopting and tweaking this strategy to their industry. While this wasn’t initially successful for many firms, as the process wasn’t designed for their production, it has meant that lean manufacturing has evolved significantly over the past century.

What Are The 8 Wastes Of Lean?

There are seven wastes initially laid out by the Toyota Production System, although this has been added to and modified in recent years. These wastes are:

  • Excess inventory
  • Unnecessary movement of people or other resources
  • Unnecessary transport
  • Idling or reduced production time
  • The over-production of a part or product, which feeds into excess inventory
  • Over-processing, which typically involves putting more time into a product than a customer requires
  • Defects, which will then need to be fixed, thus increasing costs

Each of the above were first laid out in the Toyota Production Plan. In recent decades, there have been several attempts at updating the wastes. However, there has only been one that’s been added, with this being the failure to take advantage of talent or ingenuity.

What Are Lean Manufacturing Practices?

There are a variety of principles associated with lean manufacturing, with the elimination of waste being the most prominent. This means that much of the process is focused on identifying and overcoming any problems that may cause this waste.


Respecting human elements of production is another practice that lean manufacturing focuses on. While the majority of businesses will treat their employees well, the core of this practice involves treating them well enough to encourage them to go above and beyond throughout the production process.

This includes showing them the value of their work, as well as aligning this purpose with their work and life goals.


Heijunka, or leveling production, is another core practice involved in lean manufacturing. While this may sound easy in theory, it can be much more difficult in practice, as it means determining and maintaining a consistent output that matched market demand as closely as possible.

Just In Time Production

Just In Time production can be another vital practice involved in lean manufacturing. This consists of completing the production process in time to meet demand, which reduces the need to store inventory on a long-term basis.

As a result, nothing is completed in excess, which results in the waste typically associated with storing products or materials. This is one of the major wastes related to the production process and is a factor that lean manufacturing looks to avoid.

What Are The 5 Principles Of Lean Manufacturing?

There are five core principles to lean manufacturing, with each of these being laid out in Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation.


The first is to identify value from a customer’s perspective.

While this is created by a manufacturer, it’s defined by the customer. As such, a business will need to determine what value a potential customer puts on a product or services, which can help inform price points. This means that a company will be able to reduce cost and waste to meet this price.

Map The Stream (Value Stream)

To do so, a company will need to map the value stream, which is the second principal of lean manufacturing. This involves analyzing the flow of materials or information to identify where waste is, as well as where the production process can be improved. The value stream includes everything from the purchasing of raw materials to the disposal of any waste.

Create Flow

Thirdly, a company will need to create flow, which involves identifying and eliminating barriers to the production process. By doing so, there will be significantly less interruptions to production, which improves cost-effectiveness and reduces time to market.

Establish Pull

Establishing a pull system is another of the core principals of this. Many companies use what’s known as a push system, whereby they push their product to market regardless of demand. A pull system is the opposite of this, with companies increasing production alongside an increase in demand.

Kaizen (Perfection)

Lastly is what’s known as Kaizen, which is the process of continuous improvement. This entails consistently aiming for perfection by targeting the root causes of any problems that may arise.

What Is Kaizen?

Kaizen is the process of striving for perfection, with the majority of this being through small, continual changes. This is typically based on cooperation between employers and employees and is contrasted with many other principals in that it isn’t dictated top-down.

The process was developed for several reasons and has resulted in several benefits for manufacturing companies. Some of the most notable of these include a reduction in waste, encouraged productivity and employee happiness, and the lowering of defects being created during the production process.

The name Kaizen is Japanese for ‘good change’ and ‘improvement,’ although in recent years it has come to be used to mean ‘continuous improvement’ because of popular usage. Kaizen initially developed around the concept of putting quality control in the hands of workers.

What Are The 5 Elements Of Kaizen?

There are a variety of elements that have helped define Kaizen over the past three decades, although there are a few that have had a larger impact than others. There are five that have been agreed upon since the concept was first popularized, which each of these focusing on cooperating to improve the process. These include:

  • Personal discipline
  • Teamwork
  • Suggestions for improvement
  • Quality circles
  • Improved morale

By focusing on each of the above elements, a company can take advantage of the benefits typically seen with the lean manufacturing process. While these may take a certain amount of time to implement, these benefits can drastically improve a business’ revenues and profit margins.

Top 10 Lean Manufacturing Tools


There are a variety of tools that have been effective in implementing and maintaining an effective lean manufacturing process. The first of these is the PDCA problem-solving cycle, which stands for Plan, Do, Check, and Act and helps visualize the process of solving business problems.

This covers planning for a specific goal, planning the work for this goal, and then checking the results of this plan. Should any unwanted effects present themselves, then PDCA helps to overcome these quickly.

The Five Ways

Secondly is what’s known as the Five Whys, which involves identifying the initial cause of a problem. Simply put, this focuses on asking ‘why’ five times or fewer to remove the layers of an issue and identify its root cause.

This allows business owners to diagnose any problems without the need for statistical analysis. It also allows managers to identify whether there are multiple causes, as well as what relationship, if any, there are between them.

Continuous Flow

Thirdly is Continuous Flow, also known as One Piece Flow, which calls on teams to create small batches. This allows for companies to speed up the production process by improving the rate of inspection. The primary benefit of this is that it will enable firms to quickly identify problems in the manufacturing process and fix them before the next batch is produced.

Cellular Manufacturing

Cellular Manufacturing is the fourth common tool used in the process, which asks that teams arrange their stations based on the parts they produce. This allows for both rapid feedback and decreased travel time for products, which can speed up the creation of small, efficient batches.

The Five S’s

The Five S’s can be another useful tool, with this standing for Sorting, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Implementing each of these helps to maximize workflow while increasing overall efficiency.

Total Productive Maintenance

Companies may also want to take advantage of Total Productive Maintenance, which encourages employees to maintain their equipment. This allows for a variety of benefits, such as the avoidance of delays or breakdowns. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) plays a part of this, with the metric measuring how much production time is productive.

Takt Time

Takt time is the seventh tool that the majority of manufacturing companies will be able to capitalize on. This measures the average amount of time it takes a firm to meet market demand. To determine this, a company must divide production time by the number of units needed.

Standardized Work

Standardized Work is the eighth tool in lean manufacturing and works in conjunction with Takt Time. This is where a company creates a repeatable process for how teams should function, with documents needed to mandate which steps need to be taken to create a product.

Mistake Proofing

Mistake Proofing is tool number nine, with this focusing on notifying teams about mistakes as they occur. By doing so, companies can avoid repeating the same mistakes, which reduces waste and increases efficiency.

Leveling The Workload

Lastly is what’s known as Leveling The Workload. This dictates that companies maintain their level of output regardless of inconsistencies in market demand. By doing so, firms will be able to minimize or avoid, the need to switch setups depending on demand, which reduces the time needed to create products.

By utilizing lean manufacturing, companies are able to reduce their overall costs, as well as see a variety of other benefits. As such, it can often be vital for a business to take advantage of the process to become, and stay, successful.