The basic premise of lean manufacturing is around eliminating waste. Waste, in this context, is defined as anything that doesn’t add value. Lean manufacturing provides an organised way, and tools to use, to take positive action to do just that. Continuous improvement is the ultimate goal.

The concept was first introduced by Toyota around 70 years ago. The actual phrase “lean manufacturing” was first coined in the 1980s, when the principles began to draw serious attention.

The manufacturing industry has changed dramatically since lean principles were first adopted. But within a world that is increasingly digital, virtual and immediate, is there still a place for lean manufacturing?

Given that we offer lean manufacturing support as a service, it probably won’t surprise you to hear us answer that with a resounding YES!

So why is it then, that lean still resonates while other initiatives tend to come and go?

Why is lean manufacturing still relevant?

The simple answer? Because it works! Lean manufacturing is still being used by real companies in practical situations to improve everyday production.

The basic ideas are sound and understandable. And the results can be dramatic. When the principles are applied correctly and ingrained within a company, it continues to deliver improvements and savings for the lifetime of that company.

In today’s highly competitive and unpredictable global economy, lean is just as relevant as it ever was. Perhaps more so. Companies today – now more than ever – are looking to optimise their supply chains. The aim is to get your customer what they want, when they want is by spending as little money as possible to get that done. Lean manufacturing still does that.

Ultimately, the results that lean can deliver – higher throughput, lower costs, faster responses, increased agility – remain vital to businesses’ success.

Taking a fresh look at lean manufacturing

Lean is still relevant. That’s not to say, however, that lean manufacturing can stay the same as it has always been. Lean principles do need to evolve, the same as everything else. Here are just some of the ways lean manufacturing can really add value in the modern manufacturing environment.

1. Adapting to a new workforce

One of the reasons lean is so powerful is because it has an emphasis on participation and the contribution of the individual workers. In some places, the successes it yields are as much about attitude and approach as they are about tools and techniques. This works particularly well in addressing two challenges the manufacturing industry is facing.

Firstly, lean techniques encourage the collaboration of the workforce across age and experience levels. This helps pass on valuable skills before they are lost as older workers retire.

Secondly, within flat management structures and with more independent, younger workers lean manufacturing drives empowerment. If “leaders” can shift their roles to that of “facilitator” it is likely to result in a more productive workforce.

The resulting empowered team, where the good sense and experience of production workers is being harnessed, can contribute greatly to the goal of continuous improvement.

2. Integrating new technology

Embracing new technology is vital for manufacturers to survive in today’s world. But integrating new technology doesn’t always go smoothly.

In an age dominated by technology adoption and integration, lean can provide the best approach for selecting and integrating technologies that deliver on efficiencies so often promised, but rarely delivered.

3. Enabling innovation

Innovation is vital for companies to retain a competitive edge. As new ideas are tried and tested, workflows will need to be refined until best practices are reached. Lean concepts can help guide these workflows and keep waste in check, without totally restricting innovation, trial and error.

3D printing is a great example that I’m very excited about. It goes hand in hand with lean manufacturing by enabling easier prototyping, easily customisable products, more creativity and efficiency, more consistency, shorter lead times and local manufacturing. It just needs careful integration to avoid creating unnecessary waste.

4. The world of on-demand

The efficiency that lean manufacturing drives towards will allow for greater visibility of your customers’ needs. At a time when customers demand increased personalisation and delivery yesterday, lean has never been a more valuable tool to increase company-wide connection with that which customers value.

Capabilities have changed in terms of production and supply chain. Lean principles help manage the complexity, minimise steps and optimise resources. Through the process of waste reduction, you can drive manufacturing cycle times down. This saves the company money and meets the expectations of today’s customers.

5. Data management

 With so much data at our fingertips, including projections, not just historical reports, how do we avoid over-reporting and data deluge? Lean guidelines can help keep processes simple with a focus on improvement, rather than wasting time on number-crunching for little gain.

6. Supporting green manufacturing

There is a global focus on minimising waste and pollution to make manufacturing more “green”. Manufacturing companies are under pressure to find more sustainable way of working.

Environmental wastes and pollution have traditionally not been the main focal point of lean production. But with a global shift towards this ideology, lean can help promote sustainability without sacrificing other efficiencies.

So, if you think your production processes could benefit from a fresh pair of eyes and some help to streamline them, let us discuss lean management with you in further detail.