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Lean Manufacturing:
How to Boost Efficiency and Productivity

First employed by Taiichi Ohno in the Toyota Production System, lean methodology can help manufacturers of all sizes boost their productivity and profits. Due to its success, the methodology has been adopted by countless companies across a variety of industries.

Small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) that cultivate a lean culture at their companies can reduce waste, boost efficiencies, and become more sustainable.

Man working on manufacturing equipment wearing PPE.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing aims to eliminate any steps within a business or work process that do not create "value" as defined by the customer — when implementing Lean, all tasks performed must be viewed through the lens of value-added work and non-value-added work. Value-added work directly creates the features, characteristics, and benefits that the customer desires and is willing to pay for (e.g., operating the machine that produces a plastic comb). Non-value-added work is made up of tasks that the customer does not care about and does not want to pay for (e.g., material and labor costs from scrap products passed on to the customer in the price of the comb).

You can dive deeper into the fundamental principles of lean manufacturing here.

Why Go Lean?

Going lean has many advantages. Most notably, it can facilitate your company’s ongoing improvement. By optimizing your workflows continuously, you can boost your:

  • Efficiency

  • Productivity

  • Profits

  • Cost-savings

  • Sustainability

Employing a lean methodology can also improve your customer satisfaction. This is because lean manufacturing helps SMMs identify the products, features, processes, and activities customers care about the most. By prioritizing customer satisfaction at every stage of your manufacturing process, you’ll be more likely to meet consumers’ needs and earn their repeat business. 

You can find even more reasons to love lean manufacturing in this article.

The Principles of Lean Manufacturing

Now that you know why lean manufacturing is so valuable, let’s review its fundamental principles:

Understand the value defined by the customer

Understand the value defined by the customer

Your customers determine the success of your business. Satisfied customers contribute to a healthy sales pipeline. The first principle of lean manufacturing is understanding what customers value and are willing to pay for.

Define the value stream for your organization

Define the value stream for your organization

Before you can optimize your manufacturing process, you need to clarify its steps. After that, you can analyze each step to identify "value-added” and “non-value-added" steps and the location and magnitude of waste.

Establish continuous flow within the organization:

Establish continuous flow within the organization:

Once your value stream is clearly defined, you can enhance its flow by mitigating waste wherever possible. With less waste, your operations will flow much more smoothly.

Maintain the flow through a pull system

Maintain the flow through a pull system

A pull system relies on customer demand to initiate production. In other words, you only produce new products when there is demand. As a result, pull systems reduce the waste involved in manufacturing by preventing excess inventory, reducing obsolescence, and maintaining higher quality and service standards.

Pursue perfection through continuous improvement of the process

Pursue perfection through continuous improvement of the process

Lean manufacturing is a process that never ends. It requires you to continuously monitor and update your processes to suit fluctuating market conditions and customer demands. 

8 Areas to Reduce Waste

Lean manufacturing has classified waste into eight categories. An easy way to remember them is to employ the acrostic DOWNTIME:



Flaws that get detected during manufacture or inspection can be addressed in-house but may result in more time, money, and resource costs, as well as customer delivery delays.



Excess production builds undemanded inventory, which carries obsolescence risk and can clog up your value stream since you have to use resources to transport and store them.



You can eliminate bottlenecks by strategically scheduling the delivery time of new materials, balancing line steps in your workflows, preventing shipping delays, and proactively repairing and maintaining your machines.


Non-Utilized Skills and Creativity

Engaging and making space for people to perform their best and improve their skill sets is a win-win solution. Include workers and operators in troubleshooting and planning to improve their areas in order to utilize their firsthand knowledge effectively.



Simply identify inefficiencies in your current workflows and make adjustments to minimize product movements and distances. 



A Kanban scheduling system can help you prevent excess inventory by visualizing your workflow’s inputs and outputs.



You can improve your employees’ ergonomics and eliminate movement waste by adjusting the order, location, or placement of tools and materials within the workplace.


Excessive Processing

When working on a Lean waste review and action plan, keep an eye out for any steps or habits primarily based on “this is how we’ve always done it” rather than current manufacturing needs.

Man working on manufacturing equipment while wearing PPE.

Tips for Implementing Lean Culture

If you’re ready to adopt a lean approach to manufacturing, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Establish a shared vision with your team
  • Educate your employees on lean principles
  • Empower your employees to reach their full potential
  • Employ a lean management system
  • Monitor your progress and measure the results
  • Commit to continuous improvement

How to Overcome Challenges

When you start your lean manufacturing journey, you’ll naturally face some challenges along the way. However, you can overcome these challenges by maintaining an open dialogue with your employees and securing the support of your company’s leadership early on.

Once everyone is on the same page, training your employees and teaching them about lean manufacturing principles is essential. One memorable way to do this is to host a “waste walk” where you analyze your manufacturing workflows through a lean manufacturing lens.

After implementing lean adjustments, make sure to track their progress and update them as needed. You can also use visual management tools to standardize your new policies and procedures.