What are the main tools used in lean manufacturing?

Ilabo team
July 08, 2022
Reading Time: 4 minutes
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Those involved in lean manufacturing are well aware that the basic premise of the concept is to produce more and more with fewer and fewer resources. This is possible through the elimination of waste in manufacturing – that is the elimination of any activity that requires labour and does not create value from the customer’s point of view. However, what adds value in any kind of process (planning, production, marketing or sales) is only and exclusively the physical or informational transformation of a product, service or activity into something the customer expects and is willing to pay for.

The goal of lean manufacturing

Therefore, according to the lean manufacturing concept, we should strive to eliminate all activities that do not add value, such as unnecessary motion or transport, over-processing, corrections of products manufactured, overproduction, etc.

To emphasise the essence of eliminating waste from the manufacturing process in the functioning of an enterprise, it is worth quoting the words spoken by Taichi Ohno (recognised as the father of lean manufacturing), who presented the essence of Toyota’s functioning in the following words:

“All we are doing is looking at the time line, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the time line by reducing the non-value adding wastes.” (Ohno 1988)

Examples of losses that can be seen by observing processes in companies include:

  • defects, products that need repair or cause the necessity of repeating certain actions,
  • process steps that are unnecessary from the customer’s point of view,
  • movement of workers,
  • production of items that nobody wants, resulting in the growth of stocks, especially of finished goods, and overproduction
  • transport of goods from one place to another without a clear purpose,
  • waiting, resulting from the lack of coordination and harmonisation of activities and shortages of materials or tools at different stages of the production process,
  • goods and services that do not meet customer requirements

The examples of manufacturing waste presented above can be eliminated by introducing tools related to the concept of lean manufacturing.

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Visual management in manufacturing

One of the most basic and universal tools is visual management, which facilitates the control of the production process and enables the detection of irregularities in real time. Visual management boards in a company is a source of information and a basis for action for managers at all levels of management. Visualisation is also fundamental for the implementation of other tools supporting the elimination of waste in factories, such as 5s lean manufacturing, which is related to order and proper organization of workstations.

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Another basic tool, especially necessary in eliminating waste in manufacturing, is the standardization of work. It is hard to imagine an improvement that would eliminate non-value-adding activities without a standardization process. Such a solution should be written down as a standard and disseminated to others who carry out the same work. It is also impossible to ensure the repeatability and stability of a process unless standardized steps are defined along with the manner of their performance in a fixed cycle time. This is because standardization is what defines the interaction between a person and their working environment during the manufacturing process.

Total Productive Maintenance

The standardization process significantly supports the functioning of yet another tool, namely TPM ( Total Productive Maintenance ). This tool is related to the correct functioning of machinery and equipment and aims to eliminate unplanned stoppages. Therefore, according to the principles of TPM, the most important thing is the preventive maintenance of equipment, carried out both by the Maintenance Department and by operators, as it is easier to “prevent than to cure”.

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Single-Minute Exchange of Die (SMED)

Another tool associated with the machinery park in companies is SMED. The aim of introducing this tool is to eliminate stoppages associated with machine changeovers. This is extremely important in today’s market reality, where companies are forced to produce in smaller batches, which requires them to adjust machines more and more frequently. As a result, companies aim to reduce preparation and finishing times as much as possible in order to be competitive.

Kanban in manufacturing

The elimination of wastes in manufacturing also means reducing stock levels to the absolute minimum, as they are considered a cost according to the lean concept. It is also important to reduce the production of items customers do not want, that is to eliminate overproduction, which Ohno believes is the worst source of losses. This can be achieved by implementing the Kanban system, which enables stock control and is used as a signal to manufacture only the necessary quantities of products. Kanban shows better results in companies than the traditional scheduling system.

The tools listed above are most often implemented in companies that aim to eliminate manufacturing waste. However, the concept of lean manufacturing also provides a whole range of additional tools that can be successfully applied in a company, e.g. for data analysis (value stream mapping or spaghetti diagrams are very popular) or for quality improvement (tools supporting the integration of quality into the process). However, all these solutions should be tailored to the needs of a specific company.