Lean Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing at A Glance

By Bob Argyle
29 Jul 19

The Toyota Production System (TPS) popularized lean manufacturing. It was developed by Taiichi Ohono and Eiji Toyoda between 1948 and 1975, and Toyota still remains the leader of lean in the world today.


They embody everything a lean manufacturer ought to.

Toyota excels at creating innovative products, leaning out production, reducing work content and equipment cost in operations, developing skills, and responding to customer needs.

In other words, Toyota is an expert at creating value for customers by maximizing productivity while minimizing wasted effort and expense. And that idea lies at the heart of lean manufacturing, a philosophy used by many of the world’s most successful manufacturers.

Read on for an overview of lean manufacturing, the principles behind it, and the steps needed to successfully implement it at your manufacturing plant.


What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is both a system and a school of thought, similar to the agile methodology for software development. 

The end goal: to create a perfect value creation process with zero waste.

Does that sound like a lofty goal? 

You’re right.

It’s virtually impossible, but when a plant uses that idea as their guiding light, they assure that they’re at least oriented in the right direction and making positive progress; they’re maximizing customer value.

Lean manufacturing maximizes customer value by streamlining processes, eliminating waste, and maintaining high-quality output.

With more efficient, streamlined processes in place, everyone within the plant—from C-suite execs to floor workers, from managers to operators—are relieved of unnecessary, time-wasting activities. Rather than fretting over excessive machine downtime or meeting production quotas, all basic needs and functionalities are met.

This frees every member of the plant to focus on a goal of greater value: shifting their collective attention to optimizing the processes that help them deliver a better, more brilliant product to the customer.

By applying lean manufacturing principles, a plant relieves overburdened equipment and workloads, thus improving efficiency and growing profits. This makes it as much a business philosophy as an operational guideline. 


7 Key Lean Manufacturing Principles 

Lean manufacturing is based on a set of repeatable principles. 

Lean principles are flexible enough to guide any manufacturer as they develop their own specific solutions, and include:

  1. The elimination of waste (first and foremost)

  2. Continuous improvement, also known as “kaizen”

  3. Leveraging the business’s human capital

  4. Leveling out production; no matter what happens, your output remains the same

  5. One piece flow; at any given stage of the process, one product is always being worked on, so nothing is left waiting for a station to get freed up

  6. Just-in-time production, a production model where deliverables are produced in order to meet actual demands and avoid overstocking

  7. Quality built into your manufacturing processes; including “mistake-proofing,” where mistakes are prevented or are caught early and corrected


No matter what toolkits, processes, or even software a business chooses to implement, lean manufacturing principles provide the basis for operational efficiency.

We believe that in order for these principles to be effective, they need to engage the most powerful resource available inside your plant: the human brain. People need to see not only how it will benefit the business, but also how it will benefit them personally. Knowing how they will be involved and will win is critical to getting their hearts and minds.

Then Lean becomes more than just a project or a program. It’s a way of life.


The Five Steps Of The Lean Manufacturing Cycle

The principles listed above guide the decisions and techniques of companies. It’s a good idea to consider their relationship to the lean manufacturing cycle, which keeps the goal of these principles in clear sight.

Remember: lean manufacturing is all about increasing value, and that’s a never-ending process.

The lean manufacturing cycle is a means of visualizing that process:


  1. Identify value: Define what the end value to the customer is
  2. Map the value stream: Focus on eliminating any steps in the process that don’t create value
  3. Create a flow: Build a tight sequence of steps that bring the highest amount of value to a customer, as quickly as possible
  4. Establish Pull: A system that has the purpose of creating a workflow where work is pulled only if there is a demand for it.
  5. Continuous improvement: Now it’s a matter of refining and repeating. Strive for perfection by continuously eliminating waste, smoothing out processes, etc.


When organizations implement lean manufacturing and production principles, they stand to gain very real benefits:


  • Eliminating non-value-added activities and reducing costs in all areas
  • Saving on costs by preventing a defect rather than wasting time and the need to have labor rework it
  • Reducing the time it takes to complete activities
  • Less and less need to rely solely on cheap overseas labor for cost savings
  • Unnecessary to store and maintain large amounts of inventory, but keeping output consistent, enough to meet customer demand
  • Motivated workforce: Lean should be fun because it promotes creativity and innovation


The Toyota Production System is still spoken about in hushed, reverent tones because it’s the system established by the first high-profile lean manufacturer.  

But your plant can enjoy that kind of efficiency, too. Toyota paved the way for many companies that have successfully trimmed down and leaned out their operations while increasing their bottom lines and delivering products that customers truly need.

For example, companies like Autoliv have taken the TPS model and effectively applied the principles to create a true lean culture.

The pursuit of excellence might seem intimidating at first, but lean allows you to start where you are and improve from there. Lean is not a destination, but a journey that never ends.

If you’re ready to transform your plant floor, request a demo with Leading2Lean (L2L). Our complete manufacturing software solution has lean principles built in, hardwiring it into your culture so you can enjoy all the benefits of lean manufacturing with less of the hassle. 


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