Research & Best Practices

What is Lean Manufacturing?


In the ongoing pursuit of increased efficiency and improved profit margins, lean manufacturing is one of the most impactful practices that organizations have adopted over the past several decades – and its influence remains significant to this day.

What is lean manufacturing? It is defined as a set of methods focused on eliminating waste in production and all related processes. To further explain Kaizen lean manufacturing (as it is also known), we can define “waste” as any process or action that does not add value for the customer.

With this set of baseline definitions established, we can now take a more in-depth look at lean manufacturing uses, concepts, practices and principles.

Principles and practices in lean manufacturing

The primary lean manufacturing benefits come from a well-defined set of tasks and actions, with the core tenet of waste elimination underpinning them. Lean manufacturing applications and methods include:

  • Being proactive: Reactive practices, such as reactive maintenance, are among the most wasteful in a facility. In the reactive maintenance example, unplanned shutdowns mean that machines sit idle for an indeterminate amount of time and therefore not producing products – or value – for the customer. Lean manufacturing maintenance would define proactive processes like scheduled maintenance and predictive maintenance (achieved through R360® Machine Health Monitoring, including industrial sensors and internal network monitoring and communication devices) as the most efficient and least wasteful methods.
  • Planning and scheduling: These practices are among the simplest and most effective ways to eliminate idle time and downtime, as well as to ensure that resources are being directed to the highest value areas possible. In lean manufacturing, underused resources are considered wasteful, so it is critical to ensure that personnel and equipment are being directed to the highest value tasks that they are capable of, at all times.
  • Total productive maintenance: As a lean manufacturing maintenance process, total productive maintenance (TPM) focuses on the complete elimination of downtime, defects and workplace safety incidents – all of which create waste. TPM achieves this by placing responsibility and autonomy as close to equipment as possible, decentralizing decision-making and giving machine operators and maintenance personnel the latitude to carry out maintenance tasks as needed.
  • Reliability-centered maintenance: Reliability-centered maintenance focuses on identifying and remedying failure modes for equipment and processes, using a rigorous process loop based on measured outcomes of maintenance decisions.
  • 5S process: The 5S process is a core component of lean manufacturing, and we will explore 5S in greater depth later in this piece. 5S outlines five foundational principles of lean manufacturing.
  • Kaizen events: Kaizen events are highly targeted procedures that focus on analyzing and improving a specific process in the facility. A Kaizen event occurs for a defined amount of time – typically several days, but sometimes as little as a few hours – and is an “all-hands” scenario that brings together everyone involved in a process to identify what works and what doesn’t, and to make decisions moving forward that maximize efficiency and value while reducing or eliminating waste.

5S: The five principles of lean manufacturing

5S methodology chart

As mentioned above, these five principles of lean manufacturing provide the underpinning for the system and its related processes. With roots in Japan, both the original name and the English counterpart are listed below.

  • Seiri: Sort: Sorting is an assessment of the items in a location, and the value that they provide. Any unnecessary items are reassigned to a value-producing location or are eliminated. Sorting makes operation, monitoring and inspection easier; makes it easier to locate required equipment and controls; eliminates safety hazards; and increases the amount of space available for value-added items or equipment.
  • Seiton: Straighten: Straightening the workspace involves placing all equipment in an intuitive, orderly configuration to maximize efficiency and streamline processes. For example, seiton/straightening may involve moving machines so that the floor footprint reflects a logical process flow. It may also entail ensuring that the necessary supporting or secondary tooling is present at the workspace.
  • Seiso: Shine & Scrub: As a maintenance baseline, the “shine and scrub” tenet focuses on workspace cleanliness as a method of supporting process efficiency and workplace safety. By carrying out daily cleaning tasks, machine operators and other personnel can help ensure that equipment does not encounter undue wear and tear, products are not damaged and personnel are not subject to safety hazards.
  • Seiketsu: Standardize: By standardizing procedures and creating uniform processes, this step ensures that every worker knows exactly what to do and can be trained and supported in an efficient and uniform manner.
  • Shitsuke: Systematize, Sustain: This step of the process calls for accountability and repeatability, entailing a system of monitoring and assessing the success of 5S and lean processes that have been implemented, and making decisions about how to modify or replace them as needed. This principle also includes training, education and audit of processes and procedures on a regular basis.

With these core principles at your disposal, you now have the understanding necessary to start introducing lean manufacturing principles into your facility. At ATS, our lean maintenance helps improve facility efficiency, focusing on performance and value through reliability-centered maintenance and predictive maintenance. Our expertise in technology, systems, processes and personnel makes us the best choice for predictive analytics in manufacturing. To learn more, contact us today.

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