Lean manufacturing

What is lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is the production practice (often simply called “Lean”) that considers it wasteful to expend resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer. Lean manufacturing is a common strategy employed by manufacturers to increase production efficiency, reduce operating costs, and raise the quality of finished goods. With its focus on reducing waste, lean manufacturing complements today’s sustainability initiatives.

While “manual lean” initiatives have reduced waste in production and benefited manufacturers, computer-based lean activities facilitated by lean manufacturing software offer greater benefits. Lean production software is incorporated in a manufacturing operations management (MOM) system. Specifically, aspects of lean manufacturing undergird functional aspects of advanced planning and scheduling (APS)manufacturing execution systems (MES) and quality management systems (QMS). Lean manufacturing software has proven to simultaneously improve yields and throughput while reducing operating costs.

According to the practice of lean manufacturing, as waste is eliminated, quality improves while production time and cost are reduced. Some of the tools of lean facilitated by lean manufacturing software include:

  • Single minute exchange of dies (SMED)
  • Value stream mapping
  • Five S
  • Kaizen
  • Kanban (pull systems)
  • Just-in-time (JIT)
  • Poka-yoke (error proofing)
  • Total productive maintenance
  • Single piece flow
Lean manufacturing software utilizes data to establish baseline measurements, identify improvements, and analyze results. Lean production employs the comprehensive digital twin [link to glossary page], and this makes information accessible in seconds to any stakeholder supporting lean projects and continuous improvement goals.
Business woman standing on balcony on top of large lean manufacturing factory, holding digital tablet and examining the production online.

How lean production practices reduce waste

Lean production planning and lean production scheduling are sometimes viewed as sets of tools that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste, known by the Japanese term “muda.” Each kind of waste can be reduced or eliminated through MOM-based lean manufacturing software.

Defects create waste because of both the inspection efforts required to find defects and the corrective actions needed to fix or remove them. With lean manufacturing software, manufacturers can easily search for and contain nonconforming material before defects are formed. Through error-proofing and “right first time” efforts, lean production planning and manufacturing execution software ensures that:

  • The right materials are used
  • Measurements are within specification
  • Operators are properly trained
  • Equipment maintenance and calibration are up to date
  • Correct procedures are followed
As a result, manufacturers are able to reduce scrap, defects and rework.

Overproduction generates waste by raising costs associated with work in progress (WIP) and inventory. Through advanced planning and scheduling software, lean manufacturing practices more closely link customer orders and work orders. Lean production planning and scheduling enable better work prioritization and time management through real-time visibility of order status and inventory levels.

Waiting is wasteful in that idle time for equipment and personnel reduces productivity and throughput. Lean production planning and scheduling software enables manufacturers to improve the synchronization of operators, material handlers, maintenance, and production steps. Data infrastructure that supports lean manufacturing software provides the means for immediate communication, also reducing idle time.

Inventory of materials, components, WIP and finished products wastes space and time devoted to movement and storage, and also raises the likelihood of materials expiring before they can be used. Lean manufacturing minimizes inventory by creating a pull-system that limits the queues at each operation and by enforcing FIFO/LIFO rules. The software provides visibility that increases the accuracy of WIP and finished goods inventories.

Transportation becomes wasteful when materials and documentation are moved unnecessarily or over longer distances. Lean manufacturing software optimizes material movement and eliminates paper documentation, so that information travels at digital speeds.

Overprocessing creates waste by multiplying the number of times a WIP or finished good is worked on or handled. Lean manufacturing software reduces overprocessing by eliminating manual data entry and making data and analytical results immediately accessible.

Motion is wasteful when processing involves unnecessary movement of equipment or personnel. Lean manufacturing software eliminates unnecessary movement by:

  • Reducing data entry
  • Eliminating preparation, handling and review of paperwork
  • Automating distribution of information
  • Ensuring that materials are directed to the right location

The five principles of lean manufacturing

To implement lean manufacturing, companies typically follow a sequence of five practices or principles. Lean manufacturing uses this five-step process to create continuous improvement:

  1. Identify value—Since the primary goal of lean manufacturing is to eliminate anything that does not add value for the end customer, it is important to identify what the customer considers valuable in relation to the finished product. Research of various kinds (such as surveys or interviews) can be used to elicit this information from customers and prospective customers.
  2. Create a value stream map—The value stream identifies those aspects of the manufacturing process that create the value that the customer has identified. Conversely, any aspect of manufacturing that is not part of the value stream is wasteful – either necessarily or unnecessarily so. Necessary non-value aspects of production often can be reduced in some way (for example, production time consumed or cost). Unnecessary non-value aspects are waste by definition. The goal of lean manufacturing is to eliminate these.
  3. Generate a process flow—While the value stream map identifies what aspects of a manufacturing process are valuable, a process flow answers the how of the process. That is, it seeks the most efficient ways to advance from raw materials to work in progress (WIP) to finished product. Delays or interruptions create idle time for manufacturing resources. The process flow seeks to eliminate these.
  4. Establish “pull” (create an on-demand process)—A successful process flow identifies points in the manufacturing process where materials, supplies, WIP or finished products are accumulating. With demand (i.e. customer orders) serving as a primary criterion in a “pull” approach, advanced planning and scheduling systems can optimize the schedule and movement of these things in a way that minimizes inventory without starving any process step of needed resources. This approach embodies the just-in-time [link to glossary page] principle.
  5. Continuously improve and perfect—Continuous process improvement entails cycling through the first four steps of this process on an ongoing basis. Manufacturing processes today generate vast amounts of data from sensors, tests and process documentation. As this data is mined for new manufacturing insights, companies are empowered with new information to uncover and eliminate previously undetected sources of waste.

Benefits of lean production planning and lean production scheduling

By reducing or eliminating wasteful activities, lean manufacturing software increases the productivity of a manufacturing facility.

Additional benefits:

  • Reduced scrap
  • Shorter cycle times
  • Less work in progress and lower inventory
  • Improved on-time delivery
  • Reduced operating costs