What is Lean Manufacturing?

Tailoring the best manufacturing strategies in industrial manufacturing enterprises is critical and needs extra insight and forecasting specialists. A manufacturing firm’s growth and sustainability depend on the relevancy and relatability of the manufacturing approaches that directly spur the standards of in-house operations and customer relationships; making production strategies the heart of success to any manufacturing corporation. This is why, in 1930, Toyota- a multinational automotive manufacturing giant- tailored an operational model to overcome its manufacturing limitations. This model was introduced as the Toyota Production System (TPS), and was often referred to as ‘The Toyota Way’. Fascinating, the TPS sparked the origin of one of the best manufacturing strategies that were ever to be introduced to the ’World of Resourceful Manufacturing’; namely, ‘Lean Manufacturing’. This article guides the reader to explore how manufacturing firms can use Lean Manufacturing to transform their manufacturing sites to be well-versed about all dimensions of exerting healthy, sustainable and profitable production efforts.

The Five Principles of Lean Manufacturing

The Five Principles of Lean Manufacturing
Image Source: theleanway.net

What exactly is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean Manufacturing is an original Japanese method of regulating manufacturing operations to resourcefully manage in-house operations to maximise productivity and minimise waste conveniently. Manufacturing industrial giants like Toyota, Nike, Intel and John Deere and a myriad of other companies foster this method in their companies. Naturally, any company that uses ERP systems benefits from lean production. Lean Manufacturing is a crucial aspect of Manufacturing because it provides a healthy foundation for any manufacturing firm to proceed. The 5 core principles of Lean Manufacturing are explained below.

  1. Definition of what ‘Value’ means to the company
    In the context of Lean Manufacturing, ‘Value’ refers to the monetary value that the customers are willing to pay for the company’s production. This stage is one of the most important since not being able to grasp the customers’ latent or actual needs would lead to detrimental resources and other wastages. Analytical models and experiments can be done to gather data on the value creation of products. The affordability and the expectations of the clients must be comprehensively understood in this stage.

  2. Mapping of the Value Stream
    The second principle refers to mapping the value stream by apprehending the customer’s value as a reference point and identifying all the operational and managerial activities that contribute to delivering these values. All the elements that do not contribute to value generation are regarded as waste, which is categorised as non-value-adding but necessary wastes and: non-value-adding and unnecessary wastes. The former is mitigated, and the latter is completely eliminated from the system.

  3. Creating a Flow
    All the ‘valid’ value streams are now being proportioned and positioned to ensure that flow streamlines without any latency. Elements such as breaking down steps, levelling out workloads, professional growth of employees, the configuration of production steps are highly-contributing in enabling a smooth flow in lead manufacturing.

  4. Establishing the ‘Pull’
    Pull refers to a resourceful system that limits extra inventory and WIP items while making sure that manufacturing processes fluidly flow without any dispute. It ensures ‘Just-in-time ‘product deliveries and precise Manufacturing of products to efficiently meet the demand of the end-consumer in the right quantities.

  5. Pursue towards Perfection
    Pursuing perfection in Lean Manufacturing is attained after the previous 4 steps are undergone to completely controlling the wastes. [8] After disinfecting the manufacturing processes from these wastes, lean thinking and progressing production process upgrades will be integrated into the company’s culture. With time, employees and all other organisational efforts will be moving towards promoting operational excellence and meeting the customers’ demands at the right time and the right quality standards.

The origin of Lean Manufacturing?

In 1988, John Krafcik, the CEO of Waymo, coined the term ‘Lean’ in his review article “Triumph of the Lean Production System”. The findings and ideologies of an array of manufacturing and management specialists devoted in the evolution of Modern Lean. A list of such personnel is briefly mentioned below:

Frederick Winslow Taylor
He was a talented mechanical engineer in America who published works that were a contributory precursor to the advent of modern Lean. He elaborated on how the personal, professional development of people directly influences the efficiency of product manufacturing.

Henry Ford
Henry Ford’s theories that were shared in ‘Model T’ of Ford Motor Company, where Ford introduced ‘easy to build and easy to use’ views in automobile manufacturing. He explained how ‘value stream’ plays a colossal role in Manufacturing, but he did not use those words to explain it. Ford’s finding inspired Toyota to its search towards resourceful and value-adding Manufacturing.

Sakichi Toyoda
The Japanese Power Loom is the brainchild of Sakichi Toyoda. This invention was developed to reduce manual labour efforts and numbers in the weaving industry. His Type-G Loom influenced the later contributors of Lean Manufacturing; it was a breakthrough that eluded everyone to take a step back to think about corporate operations differently.

W. Edwards Deming
Deming was an extraordinarily talented statistician who helped Toyota and many other companies improve the quality of manufacturing and establish an impenetrable stronghold in management. He was remembered by Soichiro Toyoda, the Director and Honorary Chairman of Toyota, by saying,

“There is not a day I don’t think about what Dr Deming meant to us. Deming is the core of our management.”

Kiichiro Toyoda
Inspired by Henry Ford, K. Toyoda, the second president of the Toyota Company, believed in many concepts that were introduced in Lean Manufacturing. Such as just-in-time production and the importance of continuity in staying competent in markets.

Eiji Toyoda
Henry Ford’s work inspired another president of the Toyota Company, Eiji Toyoda, who served from 1967 to 1982 as Toyota’s President. He planned and adopted mass automobile manufacturing methods in America while not straying away from maintaining quality standards. Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno were the brains behind Toyota’s initial manufacturing concepts, which were later referred to as ‘The Toyota Way. It included Kanban, Kaizen (refer to the glossary given below) and also ‘Respect for People’.

Taiichi Ohno
He is titled ‘The Father or Toyota Production System’, which became popular in America as ‘Lean Manufacturing’. He formulated a model to apprehend 7 wastes in a manufacturing system and elaborated how innovative manufacturing systems must consider these 7 components when proceeding.

Shigeo Shingo
Shigeo Shingo’s intellectual contributions on Lean Manufacturing were circulated in his books: Zero Quality Control: Source Inspection and the Poka-Yoke System and Revolution in Manufacturing: The SMED System. He created the Shingo Prize for world-class organisations that harnesses lean Manufacturing to attain operational excellence.

James Womack and Daniel Jones
By saying, “We labelled this new way Lean production because it does more and more with less and less.” James and Daniel coined the term ‘Lean Manufacturing’ and identified it as the missing piece of the manufacturing operations of American Companies.

Lean Manufacturing in the digital age

Lean Manufacturing has now progressed for more than 3 decades to the new age where technological advancements are the eye of operational success. So how does technology contribute to allowing a company to attain operational excellence. Here are three aspects where you can witness where technology meets Lean Manufacturing.

Customer is Key
As Lean Manufacturing has played an important role in “demisting” the eyes of corporations in the advantage of better understanding the customer psychologies, technology is now harnessed by companies to gain the analytical advantage of apprehending their customer’s demands. Technological solutions like the CRM systems are empowered by AI technology and advanced data analytics technology to understand the customers better. With the importance delivered to the customer’s perception, customers are also enabled with the luxury of requesting customised products made possible by a plethora of technological solutions. For example, semi-automated robots are integrated into the production lines that are smart in performing jobs spanning from diverse varieties. Just-in-time deliveries are expedited, and customers are now happy and satisfied by most companies because they rely on technology.

Undying Operational Improvement
Real-time updates and KPI identification are conveniently enabled by new-age technological advancements. Companies are now aware of the patterns and changes of demands because of Big Data analytics, other Advanced Analytical Technologies, and simulation tech like Digital Twin Technology. Many tech-savvy specialists are currently working around the clock to promote the continuity of operations in manufacturing companies. Lean improvement sheerly relies upon adaptation, and adaptation is made effortless by technology.

Integrated Waste-free Value Chains
As Lean Manufacturing stresses on waste-free resourceful Manufacturing, the importance of identifying and eliminating or regulating wastages in operational endeavours of a manufacturing firm couldn’t be emphasised enough. Vertical and horizontal system integration and data analytics technologies are most invaluable in this context. As IIoT and digitisation interconnect every element in an organisation’s ecosystems, it creates a comprehensive wide-angled view of the production chains’ value-creating process. It ultimately contributes to improving the standards of the firms’ operations and expands the changes in fostering opportunities in the digital age.

Wastes that you must be cautious in Lean Manufacturing
Given below is a list of wastes of Lean Production that you must be aware of when elevating your manufacturing sector:

  • Careless Transportation Expenses
  • Overestimation of Inventories
  • Operating with large batch sizes
  • Poor layout utilisation in workstations
  • Distributed storage facilities than a unified and accessible warehouse
  • Simultaneous need for usage of machinery and equipment
  • Unnecessary motions due to siloed operations prohibiting smooth operational flows
  • Wastage of time in waiting (longer idle time)
  • Overproduction
  • Wastage of Time in Processing (Overprocessing); also known as Muda
  • Defects
  • Non-utilisation of organisational talent due to incompetent training facilities

A fascinating way to remember the wastes as per recognised by Lean Manufacturing is by memorising the acronym ‘DOWNTIME’.

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Waiting
  • Non-utilised talent
  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Extra-processing

A Glossary of Common Tools and concepts of Lean Manufacturing

5S: A Workplace Organisation Tool that provides 5 steps to keep a work area pleasant and standardised to work freely
A3 Plan: a business plan summated in a single A3 sized paper to make decisions using concise information.’
Andon: A trigger system that alerts required parties to request for help
Chaku Chaku: a style of production which positions machines to be placed closely for better production.
Gemba: It means ‘the actual place’ in Japanese. In the context of Lean Manufacturing, it means the precise place where the company produces while aligning to the value as defined by the clients.
Heijunka: An approach to levelling the unevenness in production processes and regulate the overburdening production lines by understanding the customer demand patterns.
Jidoki: This concept says that when a technical anomaly is being detected, the machines will be programmed to cease from functioning automatically.
Kaikaku: In Japanese, Kaikaku means ‘radical improvement of an activity’; changes that must be undergone eliminate wastes
Kaizen: This concept refers to continuity in advancing the operational status of organisations with time. Organisations must change for the better if they are to attain ‘Kaizen’
Kamishibai Board: A red and green ‘tee card’ board that represents tasks that need to be completed (red) and tasks that are completed (green).
Kanban System: An indicator system when a certain task needs to be completed.
Muda: Waste in operational processes
Poke Yoke: Methods that are housed to detect and prevent errors of automated devices or any other process
TAKT time: Average time between the initial starting time of producing the first unit and the time of starting to produce the second unit when the production processes are set to match the customer demands


Manufacturing companies of the digital age find Lean Manufacturing as a needful guide towards amending operational efforts to be in their best forms. It is important to note that Lean Manufacturing is at its peak when the companies are already accommodating the technologies to make manufacturing processes to streamline and promote the brand elevations and productivity rates of manufacturing plants. Lean Manufacturing is a lean-worthy approach since it is universally relatable to any manufacturing system of any age, customer relatability, waste-free operations, and result-oriented measures are never outdated elements in promoting a manufacturing firm’s excellency’s performance. We hope that you understand the long-term philosophies that are vibrated by Lean Manufacturing. Familiarise yourself to allow your company to address the critical influences that need to be well-versed by you. This familiarity will contribute to levelling up your manufacturing plants to become in their best versions in the sense of increasing ROI, sustainability, high-quality standards, employee satisfaction and lead times in your organisation.