What is lean manufacturing? Perhaps you think that you have a good idea of what it entails, but the truth is that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about what goes into successful using a lean manufacturing strategy in a business. Lean manufacturing revolves around ‘lean thinking,’ where organizations make a conscious effort to eliminate waste or any activity that consumes resources without adding value to the customer in terms of manufacturing, design, distribution, and customer service.

Lean manufacturing isn’t a one-and-done deal; it’s a philosophy of continuous improvement that has a sharp focus on reducing waste, which refers to anything within the lean manufacturing process that does not provide customer value or is not something that customers would be willing to pay for. Waste comes in various types, including:

  • Physical waste of materials or defective products
  • Overproduction
  • Waiting time of machines and operators
  • Holding too much unnecessary stock
  • Poor quality
  • Any activities that do not add value

The lean process often applies to the manufacturing industry, but it can be just as easily be applied in many other industries from offices to fast food restaurants.

It’s All About Tools

When you hear about Lean, you might immediately think of tools and courses such as:

  • The 7 Wastes
  • The 5 Whys
  • Lean Six Sigma
  • Kanban

But while all these tools are great, they will need a strong culture and structure associated with them in order for them to work well. Production tools are, of course, especially important since the process will be interrupted if they do not operate correctly and reliably. However, without a strong framework for lean management, both people and tools are likely to fall shall of their potential.

You’ve Got to Constantly Think About It

Once you implement lean, can you stop thinking about it? Lean does require constant iteration and evaluation, and for it to work and the process to be perfected, you will require a level of commitment from your team to challenge their own way of thinking about and approaching their work. Everybody should continuously strive for improved quality. You might find it useful for you or members of your team to learn more about lean manufacturing and lean methodology at Kettering University Online.

It’s Only About Cost Reduction

Lean manufacturing will certainly help you drive costs down while producing as many high-quality products as possible, but cost reduction is not all that it is about; it is about making the work easier and reducing frustration, so that time at work can be invested more into what really matters, like:

  • Learning new skills
  • Building relationships with the customer
  • Growing as a team
  • Improving the culture

When the long-term strategy is about a constant state of improvement and everybody is dedicated to changing for the better, cost reductions are a benefit that will follow.

It Means Zero Inventory

Lean doesn’t mean that you are supposed to have no inventory at all; it means thinking about what you do keep in stock in a smarter way. In order to successfully implement lean principles, you should have the right inventory in the right quantity for as and when you need to use it. It’s important to have a buffer, but it’s also vital to plan and control it. Improving your processes by practicing lean thinking will help you achieve a low inventory. For example, Apple is one of the most successful tech companies in the world, however, it operates with a much smaller inventory than its main competitors. Over the space of 10 years, Apple managed to halve its inventory, while more than doubling its revenue.

No New Equipment is Required

Whether or not you will require new equipment will depend on the specifics in your company. Any equipment that you use should be consistent, safe, and reliable. High-quality equipment can significantly reduce your operating costs and can also lower:

  • Factory lead time
  • Equipment bottlenecks
  • Disruptions and interruptions in assembly lines
  • Accidents

Lean is Only Good for Reducing Waste

While lean may be centered around reducing waste, this is not the only thing that these methodologies and principles are good for. Reducing waste is one of the most effective ways to reduce costs, and using lean for getting rid of waste means addressing the root causes too, e.g. too much variation in your product or the system is overburdened. Not only should you carefully monitor the amount of waste you’re producing, but also the processes and systems that cause it.

It’s Just Another Management Fad

As people begin to understand it more, you might see the term lean replaced by something more buzzworthy. But lean is not the latest fad in business and management. It is not really the latest anything; it is a tried and tested scientific method that was brought about by a desire to make processes more streamlined. In fact, the history of lean can be traced all the way back to Venice in the 1450s. The concepts of lean were first introduced to and integrated with the manufacturing system by Henry Ford. The term ‘lean thinking’ was first used by Daniel T Jones and James P. Womack in a study of the Toyota production system.

It’s About Getting More from People

At its core, lean is all about reducing and eliminating waste and not about making employees work twice as hard. In fact, there is often little difference in the amount of work necessary to complete a wasteful process compared to an effective one. Your workers may struggle to believe you first when you tell them that the team could easily double its outputs while still working the same number of hours. The only thing that you should get more from people when implementing lean methodologies and principles are their ideas for process improvement.

Lean has been around for decades, but many businesses are exploring it for the first time. Did you believe any of these common myths?

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