How Lean Principles have Changed Modern Manufacturing
Lean manufacturing revolutionized the way that companies thought about how they produced their goods to sell to consumers. The key principles of lean manufacturing include identifying value, mapping the value stream, creating flow, establishing pull, and seeking perfection.
It was introduced in 1950 by Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno, who were looking for the best method to expand Toyota’s production of cars for the Japanese market. They had realized that the needs of Japanese consumers were unique and they each had diverse needs that could not be solved by a single car option. By choosing a method of manufacturing cars that would only produce as much as was needed, which would meet both the demands and the desires of customers, Toyota had proved that an alternative way of manufacturing was possible.
This contrasted the existing ‘mass-production’ method that had been introduced by Ford in 1926 to meet the post-war material demands, which concentrated on driving manufacturing output, without regard for the customer’s voice. Even beyond the war effort, the ‘mass production’ method and mentality stuck with a lot of manufacturing businesses, which lean manufacturing sought to change. The concept of lean manufacturing is based upon Toyota’s Production System, and is held in high esteem even in today’s manufacturing industry for three key reasons which are listed below.
The main problem with the ‘mass production’ method of manufacturing is that it produced off-cuts and defective materials, whereas the Toyota Production System – in which lean principles derive – ensures that any waste produced can be used elsewhere, recycled and will lead innovators to think of new ways to design the product that will not produce as much waste. Rather than viewing a defect or waste as a problem, true manufacturers that apply lean principles will seize these issues as opportunities to learn from in order to improve their products for their customers. This means that no errors are hidden, only to be discovered at a later date when it is far too late.
Not only does this manufacturing process limit the amount of excess waste that needs to be disposed of, but it saves money, time and allows a business to adopt a unique selling point. The fact that minimal waste is produced means that the manufactured products are better for the environment, which is an increasing concern for consumers in the current age. This is driven by the fact that lean principles also insist on making only what is needed, when it is needed and in the amount that is needed.
Toyota’s manufacturing process involved using machines that were specifically built to produce the right size and right amount of car parts to meet the exact amount of cars that needed to be built for customers’ orders. Each machine would create the product that the next machine needed, and so on and so forth. These machines were also self-monitoring, and so if there was a problem with production, the machines could be stopped immediately. This ensured that no time was wasted in the manufacturing process, and any problems could be solved from the moment that they occurred.
In modern manufacturing, the same efficient lean principles are applied so that machines are able to minimize the wait times between each other, when relying on a previous machine for a certain part or product. It allows the manufacturing process to be streamlined without bottlenecks that can hold up the production line from continuing. This means that processes are still as quick as ‘mass production’, but result in less errors and so do not have to repeat the manufacturing again to make up for unsatisfactory products.
Yet, this has also led some lean sceptics to worry that there will be less jobs and workers will have to do more, with less. However, this is definitely not the case and these are misconceptions about lean manufacturing which you can find out more about by clicking here. Rather than leaving the machines to it as most people presume, lean principles actually mean that there is someone who is responsible for every important process and step of the manufacturing process.
By listening to what the customer wanted, and taking note of how many customers were asking for the same things, Toyota was able to customize and adapt their cars to meet the customers’ demands. Ford’s ‘mass production’ method failed to recognize that customers should drive the reasoning behind manufacturing decisions, and believed that the best option was to produce as much as they can in as little time as possible – to seemingly maximize profits.
The opposite was true however, as eventually ‘mass production’ methods delivered faulty products and did not meet the expectations of customers. This is why in the modern world, companies that use ‘mass production’ methods will have to recall products or fulfil compensation claims because they have failed to detect the error or issue before the product has left the warehouse. In lean principles, the product and the customer are kept in mind to ensure that the customer receives what they need at the highest-quality possible. At the design stage, the quality of the materials is prioritized, to ensure that the manufacturing process builds faultless products at high standards. This allows you to price your products higher than the cheaper alternatives manufactured by ‘mass production’ methods. Lean principles are ingrained in history, and are now regarded as a fundamental business philosophy. They are applied to industries beyond manufacturing, despite it originating from there, such as healthcare and construction. In fact, any organization that involves managing people or producing an end product or service, can make use of lean principles. Companies and services that have adopted lean principles have been proven to be more innovative and competitive, allowing them to be more profitable and sustainable. With the number of businesses trying to gain a step ahead of the other, applying the principles of lean philosophy has been vital to having the ‘edge’ over another competitor.