Interesting question isn’t it? Lots of people talk about lean manufacturing, but when it comes to defining it, it is not easy. In fact lean is a philosophy which evolved for many years based on some simple concepts
. Understanding these concepts and principles will help us in understanding the lean manufacturing itself.
Lean manufacturing is a manufacturing methodology where wastes are identified and removed continuously from the system in order to create value. Earlier the term just in time manufacturing is used to identify similar concepts. In Toyota’s website
they define Jikoda and Just In Time
as main pillars of lean manufacturing. Jikoda is the concept where if there is a defect it is identified and solved immediately. For an example if there is a problem in machine, the production line will be stopped and the problem will be fixed immediately. JIT or the Just In Time is the manufacturing philosophy where goods are made available in the correct quantities in the correct time and in the correct place.
History of lean manufacturing has a very closer link to the Henry Ford’s early line assembly system. Sakichi Toyoda who was the founder of Toyoda group and the inventor of automatic loom stopping system converted his business into automobile manufacturing in 1930’s. His son Kichiro visited Ford manufacturing facility and got the understanding of the concepts behind it and more importantly the problems incorporated to that system. This is a very strong evidence to prove the closer relationship between Ford system and Toyota system.
Although the concepts were developed by the owners themselves in the initial stages, the real guru of lean manufacturing is considered as Taiichi Ohno. He understood the principles behind lean and then developed them to suit the requirements of Toyota. Concepts and tools like Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Single Minute Exchange Of Dies (SMED), TAKT time, KanBan, Kaizen, Pokayoke, Jikoda, which are very important to the success of any lean manufacturer are developed over the time to facilitate this manufacturing philosophy.
Definition of waste, maintaining customer supplier relationship internally and externally, empowerment and respect to people, idea generation and using of ideas generated by employees to the betterment of the organization, organic management structures, ability to adopt to the fast changing situations, looking into the bigger picture by avoiding sub optimization, simplicity are among the key features of any lean system.
Today the lean concepts have reached many other industries including healthcare, service providers and even military. The variety of organizations that are practicing lean concepts in them goes to show the universal applicability of lean concepts or lean thinking. Lean technologies may be unique to the implementation but the lean thinking is universal.
It is important to understand that lean is not about just tweaking the current systems. It is a conceptual change to the system. This requires lots of change management and care for people. People are the most important resource for any lean manufacturer. If any manufacturer wants to cut down in number of heads it should not be in the name of lean. Lean is not about cutting corners either. It is about elimination of waste from the system continuously. Many implementations of lean fail due to the lack of understanding on basic lean concepts and general knowledge, not because of the problems in lean itself.
Now the lean has gone over its manufacturing premises and lean manufacturers are now becoming lean enterprises. Lean enterprises consist of customers and suppliers of the manufacturer. They help each other in the process of value creation and ultimately getting rewarded collectively for their efforts. Large amounts of wastes do exist in interfaces where each party separated in the supply chain. In today’s competitive markets most of the manufacturers are willing to reach their suppliers and customers and treat them as partners not as separate parties. In fact it is very hard to become a lean manufacturer without having a good supplier base at least.
Lean has a great potential for the future. Lean concepts can be used in almost all the areas. Achievable of lean including low prices, high quality, ability to supply on demand, waste free way of manufacturing and eco friendliness and human resource development are the requirements of future.