Become a Lean, Mean Manufacturing Machine

Roberto Mejia
by Roberto Mejia on October 22, 2014 in Strategy
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lean mean marketing machineWhat does it mean to be lean?

Lean: The elimination of wasteful actions and resources that do not directly create value for the customer.

In other words, if the customer isn’t willing to pay for it why are you doing it? You won’t be able to get rid of everything that doesn’t directly create value but with less waste you can more clearly see what does add value.

Signs of Waste

Not sure if you have waste? Look around your company for:

  • Overstocked inventory that isn’t moving
  • Unused desks, workstations or equipment
  • Time wasted between production steps
  • A warehouse full of production materials that won’t be needed for months
  • A high percentage of rework or scrap due to defects
  • Inflexible processes that can’t change to fill customized orders
  • Idle employees

These problems may be holdovers from a previous method of manufacturing, practices that crept in to resolve a one-time issue, or obsolete equipment left over from a time of higher staffing needs.

If you see any (or all) of these within your manufacturing business it’s time to put a little effort into some improvements that will pay for themselves quickly with the implementation of lean production practices and tools.

Lean manufacturing won’t happen overnight. There are steps to complete that tell you exactly where you need to change and the best changes to make.

The Waste Reduction 3-Step

Step 1: Identify Waste

Whereas before you just looked for general signs of waste, now you will work to identify specific areas of waste so you can make targeted improvements.

One tool for identifying waste is called a Value Stream Map (VSM). You track each and every step of every process and account for every piece of material and how it moves through the production process from order to output.

A completed VSM will show the connections between stations and departments highlighting their relationships and how efficiently they work together. Workflow mapping of individual processes can bring to light unnecessary steps and wasted resources. A map of the flow between processes shows you where inefficiency creeps into the larger system.

Step 2: Analyze the Root Cause of the Waste

Take each instance of waste and do a root cause analysis to determine what is really causing the problem. Make sure what you find is truly the source of the issue, for example, circuit boards have a high rate of failure in one particular spot on the board. It could be a batch of bad parts or it may be that the assemblers go to lunch in the middle of putting a board together, forgetting where they left off.

Step 3: Problem Resolution

Fix whatever problem you found and continue to monitor the system for areas of improvement. Running lean isn’t a set it and forget it process; it’s continuous since new techniques, technology, and products will appear to change the playing field.

Your Waste Reduction Tool Box

Many tools and techniques have evolved to help you identify and resolve the problems of wasted time and resources.

Just in Time or JIT

JIT refers to a method of receiving materials “just in time” to use them. You won’t require a large warehouse space to keep parts until they are used. It also refers to producing smaller batches of products so you won’t have to store finished goods.

Buying, building and producing small batches also give you the flexibility to customize an order or make changes. With constant monitoring and small batch work you can catch defects early and fix the problem before it occurs in a larger number of products.


This is used in conjunction with JIT. Kanban is a method of flagging low inventories of material, cueing a worker to begin the next process or locate a part for the next product coming down the line.

Zero Defects

To reduce rework and scrap due to defects, zero defects focuses on doing it right the first time through. This can include education about the waste of rework and by “idiot-proofing” processes. An example would be for the circuit board assemblers to time their work so they don’t leave an incomplete board to go to lunch or to easily mark where they left off so they don’t lose track when they get back.

Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED)

Develop manufacturing processes that can be changed quickly and easily to accommodate more than one type or version of product. Rather than spend time and money reconfiguring the line for each new item, design the system so very little has to change to build something different.


Standardization of tools, processes and work areas decrease the chance of defects creeping into the system and makes it more flexible. Workers need only familiarize themselves with one lay-out, workflow or line design.

Final Word

Once you have shed wasted resources and time from your manufacturing organization you will be amazed at the improvements in product quality, time and money savings and customer satisfaction. While not every process that doesn’t contribute to customer value may be removed, you will certainly have less waste than you did before.

With the increased revenue you will be able to continue to work toward expanding your business while still practicing continuous process improvement.

Roberto Mejia

Roberto Mejia

While specializing in web development and inbound marketing, Roberto Mejia prides himself in always learning and improving as much as possible.