Lean Thinking (Manufacturing)

Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy focusing on reduction of the seven wastes

Waiting time
Scrap in manufactured products or any type of business.
By eliminating waste (muda), quality is improved, production time and costs are reduced.

To solve the problem of waste, Lean Manufacturing has several “tools” at its disposal. These include constant process analysis (kaizen), “pull” production (by means of kanban) and mistake-proofing (poka-yoke).

Most experts now agree, however, that Lean Manufacturing is not just a toolset. Rather it is a holistic, comprehensive, enterprise-wide program designed to be integrated into the organization’s core strategy. In addition, experts in this field believe that philosophy-based Lean Manufacturing strategy is the most effective way to launch and sustain lean activities. The so called “Toyota Way,” popularized by Dr. Jeffrey Liker’s book of the same name, emphasizes the creation of the right kind of environment in which to grow and support Lean Thinking.

Key lean manufacturing principles include:

Pull processing: products are pulled from the consumer end, not pushed from the production end

Perfect first-time quality – quest for zero defects, revealing & solving problems at the source

Waste minimization – eliminating all activities that do not add value & safety nets, maximize use of scarce resources (capital, people and land)

Continuous improvement – reducing costs, improving quality, increasing productivity and information sharing

Flexibility – producing different mixes or greater diversity of products quickly, without sacrificing efficiency at lower volumes of production

Building and maintaining a long term relationship with suppliers through collaborative risk sharing, cost sharing and information sharing arrangements.
Lean is basically all about getting the right things, to the right place, at the right time, in the right quantity while minimizing waste and being flexible and open to change.

Lean thinking got its name from a 1990’s best seller called “The Machine That Changed the World : The Story of Lean Production”. The book chronicles the transitions of automobile manufacturing from craft production to mass production to lean production.

The seminal book “Lean Thinking” by Womack and Jones, introduced five core concepts:

Specify value in the eyes of the customer
Identify the value stream and eliminate waste
Make value flow at the pull of the customer
Involve and empower employees
Continuously improve in the pursuit of perfection.

Finally, there is an understanding that Toyota’s mentoring process (loosely called Senpai and Kohai relationship) so strongly supported in Japan is one of the ways to foster Lean Thinking up and down the organizational structure. The closest equivalent to Toyota’s mentoring process is the concept of Lean Sensei, which encourages companies, organizations, and teams to seek out outside, third-party “Sensei” that can provide unbiased advice and coaching, as indicated in Jim Womack’s Lean Thinking book.

Experienced kaizen members at Toyota, for example, often bring up the concept of “Senpai, Kohai,” and “Sensei,” because they strongly feel that transferring of Toyota culture down and across the Toyota can only happen when more experienced Toyota Sensei continuously coaches and guides the less experienced lean champions. Unfortunately, most lean practitioners in North America focuses on the tools and methodologies of lean, versus the philosophy and culture of lean. Some exceptions include Shingijitsu Consulting out of Japan, which is made up of ex-Toyota managers, and Lean Sensei International based in North America, which coaches lean through Toyota-style cultural experience.

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