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Lean Manufacturing: An Introduction

25 November, 2005

Lean manufacturing traces its origins to Toyota’s production model. Its tightly coupled and meticulously coordinated manufacturing system was designed to drive closer links between all functions within the organization. Central to Toyota’s manufacturing philosophy was the maintenance of an extremely low inventory—a practice that in Toyota’s view forced attention on eliminating potential problems at their source.

Lean manufacturing has grown to encompass a host of other elements, salient among which is its value-stream focus. This overarching principle holds that manufacturers must first understand virtually every step in a product’s evolution—that is to say, its “value stream”—if they seek to fabricate that product more efficiently. Armed with this knowledge, manufacturers must then search for bottlenecks that may impede the production process and, having done so, must incorporate new tools and techniques into that process as part of a continuous effort to cut costs and improve quality.

Lean Manufacturing: An overall methodology that seeks to minimize the resources required for production by eliminating waste (non-value added activities) that inflate costs, lead times and inventory requirements, and emphasizing the use of preventive maintenance, quality improvement programs, pull systems and flexible work forces and production facilities.

Although lean manufacturing holds the potential to significantly reduce costs, it has also been associated with a spectrum of challenges. By its very nature the lean process hinges on meticulous coordination between all of an organization’s activities and functions. The implementation of lean practices can thus be a difficult and time-consuming endeavor. A comprehensive lean manufacturing solution from a software provider with lean expertise and experience can alleviate the complications associated with implementing lean practices in your organization.

Additional problems have been associated with the use of lean processes. Traditionally, lean has been the focus of high volume repetitive manufacturing industries like automotive and electronics. In these high volume industries, there are numerous success stories of how adopting lean practices has had a tremendous positive impact on the company. Production smoothing—keeping manufacturing volume as constant as practical—is one of the essentials of lean operations.  In companies where production runs are short or at low volumes, taking the concepts of lean beyond the manufacturing environment and into the supply chain is key to capturing the benefits of lean.

No one is saying that the road to a lean enterprise will be easy. Making major changes to business culture and processes is risky.  However, equipping your organization with the proper knowledge, training and tools of lean manufacturing will greatly increase the probability of success. 

Source: Leaning Manufacturing Resource Guide

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