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Implementing lean manufacturing means minimizing waste through robust and efficient business processes while developing skills to solve problems and standardizing everyday tasks. These factors should be at the forefront of your mind as your business begins to scale and grow.

Businesses often have minimal resources to focus on lean manufacturing. Instead opting to zero in on development, product perfection, marketing, and sales. Formal business processes fly out the window and employees wear many hats and fulfil multiple functions. If that sounds familiar, it’s time to familiarize yourself with lean manufacturing.

At first, you might be overwhelmed with the number of concepts, tools, processes, and principles thrown at you. However, lean manufacturing doesn’t need to be elaborate or complicated. Lean manufacturing processes are loosely based on three basic principles:

  • Eliminating Waste
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Creating Value for Your Customer

Here’s how to get started:

Training and buy-in from management and employees

Just like anything in people’s lives, change is met with skepticism and pushback. It’s easy to persuade and convince certain people that change can be useful, and very hard to do the same to others. Change can be celebrated by:

  • Teaching employees that work can be easier
  • Creating a healthy team spirit by allowing everyone to contribute ideas
  • Building camaraderie and momentum by having upper management and employees trained simultaneously
  • Creating an all-inclusive environment where nobody is better than anybody else

Eliminate the 7 Wastes

There are seven types of manufacturing waste that add no value for your business or the customer. Reviewing, identifying, and eliminating these types of waste in your organization is a central idea of lean manufacturing principles.

1. Transportation

No value is added when items move from one location to the next — shortening distance and travel time decreases lead times.

2. Inventory

Excess inventory takes up storage space, which is an increased cost. Inventory can get damaged and needs to be reduced or eliminated where possible in the production process. This includes everything from finished goods, raw materials and subassemblies.

To limit inventory, your business needs to maintain computer-based inventory records and set up a regular counting program to confirm the data. Without accurate records, you won’t be able to eliminate excess inventory.

3. Motion

Consider for a moment how much time is wasted moving. Walking, bending, lifting, reaching, and other types of movements take time. Figure out how to eliminate the need for so much movement. Some examples include:

  • Eliminating walking distance between departments
  • Eliminating paper processes (printing, filing, delivering)
  • Heavy items stored at waist level in warehouses
  • Production items required at each stage stored close together

4. Waiting

Waiting is one of the most challenging processes to identify and eliminate. Often, waiting is caused in part by inventory shortages. Which can be assessed and avoided by thorough inventory control.

Machinery breakdowns also increase worker wait time and can be fixed through the implementation of regularly scheduled maintenance programs.

5. Overproduction

Overproduction is harmful for many reasons. It costs resources without delivering value and creates excess inventory (as outlined above). Make sure you pace production with consumer demand. Employees may be better utilised on other tasks such as continuous improvement when demand is low.

7. Defects

Defects are products that do not meet spec and cannot be used in sales. These are often the cause of non-standardized operations, incorrect assembly, inadequate equipment, or poorly trained operators. Fix defects by:

  • Implementing error protection
  • Put in standard operating procedures
  • Find best practices for quality assurance
  • Give the power to the employee to fix any problem (with training)

The earlier in the production process a defect is identified the higher the likelihood future errors can be avoided.

The Continuous Improvement Cycle

Continuous improvement is the constant effort to improve products, services, and processes. The 5-step continuous improvement cycle includes:

1. Define

2. Identify

3. Select

4. Implement

5. Evaluate

Through this 5-step plan, continuous improvement seeks incremental improvement in business processes over time. The plan aims to increase flexibility, business operations, efficiency, and effectiveness.

By focusing on continuous improvement business principles, lean manufacturing comes naturally. The two concepts work hand-in-hand. The last of the continuous improvement stages, evaluate, allows businesses to identify areas from improvement and build upon their existing processes.