What is Lean Manufacturing

Today, in highly consumerist society where people strive to acquire more processions, it is ironic that in manufacturing consumer product, lean is in.

The concept of zero-waste does not only circulate among ecological zones, it seems. Lean manufacturing is new buzzword in the industrial world which is rapedly gaining ubiquitous following. Lean manufacturing is a systematic approach to eliminate waste in the production process
with the end goal of satisfying customers.

Waste is anything that a customer refuses to pay for. The type of wastes in a manufacturing system include the following.

a) overproduction or producing more, earlier or faster than required.
b) waiting for machines to process
c) inventory or work in process because of large lot production or processes with long cycle time.
d) unnecessary processing
e) transportation which hardly adds values to product.
f) excessive motion of workers, machines and transport due to inappropriate location of tools and parts.
g) making defective product and
h) underutilizing people.

The focus of lean manufacturing is to minimize the consumption of resources that adds no value to a product. As such, it is a process-focused production system which minimize cost, maximizes customer options and ensures high quality and fast delivery of products and services.

The consept of lean manufacturing originated in Japan where, after WW II, it was necessary for manufacturers to developed a new, low cost manufacturing process.

Unlike their western counterparts, Japanese manufacturers needed torebuild after the war and faced declining human, material and financial resources. The first leaders to create lean manufacturing systems were Eiji Toyoda, Taiichi Ohno and Shingeo Shingo of Toyota Motor Company.

In the 1990's, the concept of lean manufacturing was popularized in the USA by a study conducted by the Massachucetts Institute of Technology on the movement of mass production toward the more streamlined Japanese production style as described in the book entitled The Machine That Changed the world (Womack, Jones & Ross).

This depicted essential elements which are used in lean manufacturing systems. The term lean was adopted because these methods used less human effort, capital invesment, production space, materials and time in all operation stages.

All U.S. manufacturing business evetually applied lean manufacturing because of competition among U.S. and Japanese automakers over the last two decades.

Lean manufacturing systems recognize the fact that the value of a product is defined slely by the customer. Customers needs must be met at a specific time and price. The nitty-gritty of product operations is of no importance to customers.

This realization forces companies to comprehensively analyze business process.

To apply lean manufacturing is to understand basic activities required to produce a particular product and to optimize the entire process from the point of view of the customer. This is important as it helps identify activities that clearly add value, those have no valued-added and cannot be avoicded and those that have no value-added and can be scrapped altogether.

Transition to lean manufacturing system does not happen overnight. Lean manufacturing requires every level of its basic principles and execution proceses. Widespread orientations must be set to prepare and motivate people and to make them understand the need to switch to lean manufacturing.

After that, a mentality for continuous improvement is necessary to reach company goals. This means that the company aims for incremental improvement of products, and proceses over time.

For this, employe involvement and an atmosphere of expermentation are essential. Decision-making and system development must be delegated. Willingness to take risks must be encouraged.

Improvement must be measured according to results vis-a-vis macro level targets not on number of activities undertaken. Because of the complicated nature of lean manufacturing systems, there is need to execute pilot projects before spread the culture accross the organization.

The number of manufacturers attempting to become lean is increasing fast. Companies that have fully implemented lean manufacturing systems are rare. Although perfection is impossible, it is a goal that lean manufacturers strive for because it helps them be more vigilant of wasteful practises.