Lean Manufacturing: what is it, and what are its steps and tools?

For a company to prosper it must be productive, that is to say, the value of sales must be greater than the cost of manufacturing. That is why companies are increasingly looking for optimization and efficiency, and many have chosen to implement Lean Manufacturing.

What is Lean Manufacturing? What is it based on?

In 1950, the Toyota automobile company laid the foundations for the new Just in Time management system, which sought to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Following this line, Lean Manufacturing was born, which has the objective that each step in the production process adds value to the customer in order to be useful.

If a step does not provide value, it should be eliminated to optimize services. This objective will be achieved if these fundamental principles are followed:

  • Value: what is value for the customer? We must identify what is valuable and create a product that includes only the essentials.
  • Value stream mapping: we must be able to monitor each step of production to identify failures and opportunities for improvement.
  • Create a constant production flow: one of the objectives is the improvement of the processes as this can reduce production time.
  • Pull system: a new process is only started when there is customer demand, so we will have a constant production process.
  • Continuous improvement or Kaizen: this principle consists of constantly using techniques to find and eliminate waste.

The steps to apply Lean Manufacturing in your company: the 5s

For the correct implementation of Lean Manufacturing in our business, we must take into account these 5 steps, the 5s (for the initial letter of these in Japanese):

  1. Seiri or Classify: We will have to define what is currently useful and what will be useful in the future. We need to take the workflow out of the latter elements.
  2. Seiton or Straighten: once the useless elements have been discarded, we organize the rest around the workstation
  3. Seiso or Shine: by achieving clean workplaces, we improve the overall productivity of workers.
  4. Seiketsu or Standardize: with this preventive measure we achieve that any person in the company knows how to perform a certain action, thus promoting efficiency.
  5. Shitsuke or Sustain: its purpose is to ensure that the things that work in the company become habits and last over time, that they become a corporate culture.
All this applies to processes, people, materials, and activities.

What tools do we use in Lean Manufacturing?

There are different tools that allow project management teams to carry out a good implementation of Lean Manufacturing. Some of them are:

  • Kanban Methodology: it is a visual tool to know in which phase of the process each task is.
  • RPA: consists of automating repetitive and recurring tasks and freeing workers from these processes so that they can focus on tasks that add value to the company.
  • SMED: allows reducing the time between production from one part to another, looking for the production to be stopped in as little time as possible.
  • Mistake-proofing or Poka-Yoke: avoids errors in a system caused by human action. There are different types: sequential (it is necessary to perform X action before moving forward); informative (clear and concise information to avoid mistakes); grouped (the necessary elements are given together to avoid failures and loss of time) and physical (it is not possible to move forward until an action physically occurs)

Do you want to know more about Lean Manufacturing and other strategies? In our Master in International Agribusiness Management, you will find much more in the module ‘Strategy in the Agribusiness world’
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