Lean Manufacturing: Commonly Asked Questions

lean manufacturing questionsLean Manufacturing Questions Answered

Implementing a Lean manufacturing strategy in your facility can be a great way to eliminate waste and improve overall efficiency. While the general concept of this methodology is not overly complicated, there is a lot that people need to know.

The following are some of the more frequently asked questions regarding Lean manufacturing. Read through to get a good understanding of how this system can be used to benefit your facility.

What Exactly is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is more than just a way to get things done in your facility. It is a comprehensive set of ideas and strategies that can help to improve the overall production of your facility. One key thing to point out is that it is not a set of tasks that you can complete to become lean. Instead, it is an ongoing process that can keep going indefinitely for continuous improvement.

When done properly, lean manufacturing will help improve the efficiency and productivity of your facility today and long into the future.

Why are there so many Japanese Terms associated with Lean Manufacturing?

The idea of Lean manufacturing began with the Toyota Motor Company in Japan. Toyota has been using Lean manufacturing for over 40 years now and really sets the standard for this methodology. For this reason, many of the terms that are used in lean manufacturing originally start in Japanese and are either brought directly over or are modified for the English language.

What are the Different Components of Lean Manufacturing?

There are many different ways to answer this question and not one of them is ‘officially’ correct or incorrect. In general, however, most Lean experts agree that three of the main elements of this methodology will include waste elimination, customer pull and continuous workflow. Looking at each of them individually can help you to see how they can combine to make a much more efficient workplace:

  • Waste Elimination – This is the one that gets the majority of the attention. Eliminating waste from a process or facility is one of the most obvious and effective ways to improve efficiency.
  • Customer PullMaking decisions based on what the customer needs rather than trying to ‘sell’ the customer on what you’ve decided will help you to make your product more desirable and easier to market.
  • Continuous Workflow – Keeping each product moving through the facility without unnecessary delays or storage is very important for ensuring an efficient workplace.

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Does Lean Manufacturing mean Laying off Employees?

No. This is actually one of the biggest misconceptions about Lean manufacturing, and one of the reasons some companies get push back from employees when introducing it. The lean manufacturing methodology is designed to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, but that does not mean eliminating people.

In some cases the waste elimination efforts will result in certain positions no longer being necessary. When that is the case, however, there should be improved opportunities available for the people in the facility. The increased profitability can help facilities acquire new and better work, which can help both the company and the employees.

What Companies can Benefit from Lean Manufacturing?

The Lean manufacturing methodology can be used for any type of manufacturing company no matter what it is they are creating. This is a very flexible strategy because it does not give specifics on how things must be done, but rather gives concepts of best practices, which can be applied to just about any situation.

In reality, the methodologies used in Lean manufacturing can actually be applied to just about any industry. There are many medical facilities, for example, that also use the concepts. Offices can put them to good use as well. Virtually any company can benefit from having a good understanding of lean strategies and logistics.

How Long Does it take to implement Lean Manufacturing Strategies?

If you are just starting out with lean manufacturing in your facility you can expect it to take at least a few months to get everyone trained and up to speed with how the methodology works. Beyond the initial training, however, the actual lean manufacturing strategies will continue to grow and change indefinitely.

This is one of the most important things to keep in mind when thinking about lean manufacturing. It is a process improvement strategy that is meant to be used to constantly find waste and remove it from the facility.

What exactly is Waste?

Lean WasteWhenever discussing lean manufacturing you will hear a lot about waste, which can sometimes be confusing. This is not referring to normal ‘trash’ or physical waste from the facility (though that can be one type of waste). Instead, waste is anything that is done that is not contributing to the bottom line of the facility in some way. The following are some of the different types of waste that can be reduced or eliminated using lean manufacturing strategies:

  • Complexity – Work should be done in the simplest way possible. Any added complexity will result in wasted time and effort through training, mistakes and other issues.
  • Motion – If people or machines are making unnecessary movements; that is a form of waste. For example, if an employee needs to walk a part across the facility to have something done, then bring it right back, this is a form of wasted motion.
  • Over Production – Making too much of something is very wasteful. Even if it eventually sells, it is still a waste because it will often need to be sold at a discount or held in a warehouse for too long.
  • Excess Inventory – Keeping too much of a particular item on hand is a type of waste. Instead a facility should only buy what it needs so that there is no risk of wasting any.
  • Defects – Any mistake will require a part or product to be either discarded or re-worked. This is a major type of waste in many facilities. Reducing the number of defects is essential, but so is identifying them as early on in the process as possible.

There are, of course, many other types of waste that can be present in any manufacturing facility. In fact, every type of waste falls under the lean manufacturing umbrella. This methodology will help to find any waste that is present and come up with ways to reduce or eliminate it.

What is Needed to Implement Lean Manufacturing?

Technically speaking there is nothing needed to implement a Lean manufacturing strategy. As long as someone in the facility has the knowledge to put the strategies in place, it is possible to begin implementation right away.

In order to have the best chance at implementing Lean manufacturing, however, it is often important to have the right resources available. There are many different types of resources available today to help improve lean manufacturing (whether just starting to implement or working to improve a well-established system). Things like industrial label printers, visual communication signs, metal peg boards and much more can be purchased to improve the efficiency of your facility.

In addition, many companies decide to hire a lean expert to help with the implementation in their particular facility. No matter what your budget or requirements, you can find a lot of great ways to help make your lean manufacturing implementation go more smoothly and effectively.

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