We’ve all heard now for many, many years that lean manufacturing is one of the keys to remaining competitive if you want to stay in manufacturing. However, can some of the principles of lean manufacturing be applied to other parts of a business beyond manufacturing? That is a question that a growing number of companies are attempting to answer, especially in today’s super-competitive marketplace.
The phrase “lean manufacturing” is an English invention that was coined by James Womack and used to summarize Japanese manufacturing techniques, specifically, the Toyota Production System (TPS). The phrase is used to describe Toyota’s approach for expanding peoples thinking beyond basic tools and tasks.
Since I learned about lean manufacturing (or production) a long time ago, a comprehensive definition has evolved in my mind over the years. Lean manufacturing is one of those things that can defy definition.
Ask 10 people what it is and you’re likely to get 10 at least slightly different answers. Basically, lean manufacturing is a combined philosophy, initiative, and method for continually reducing waste in all areas and forms to improve the quality and efficiency of a manufacturing process. An even simpler way to define lean manufacturing is a method for producing products using less of everything (material, time, energy, etc.) compared to mass production.
Lean manufacturing isn’t just as simple as doing more with less. It is a very complex methodology with many dependencies. It is a comprehensive methodology that seeks to minimize the resources required for creating and manufacturing a product. Although lean principles strive to make things simpler, these principles actually add a layer or level of complexity to processes.
I think that to this point, and somewhat ironically, lean manufacturing concepts have tended to focus strictly on the processes occurring only on the factory floor. Ironic, because to truly exploit all that lean processes have to offer can and should be deployed throughout a company — from the factory floor to the top floor. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, and that’s what we’ll discuss next time in the MCADCafe Blog.