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What is Lean Manufacturing?

Kerry Beeby - Director
lean manufacturing car manufacturing

Manufacturing has been one of the biggest industries in the UK’s history. We’re proud to have been a part of the industry for as long as we have. British manufacturing is something that we can all look back on and learn a few things - anything from loyalty and hard work, to smarter thinking and ingenuity. By looking back, we’ve been able to employ different ways of working. One of the best and most successful ways of working is lean manufacturing.

A Brief History:

Toyota managed to take inspiration from Ford and develop the idea to the next level.

The first real instance of lean manufacturing as a specific process came from Henry Ford and his conveyor belt style production line. This meant that they were able to cut costs and keep the work flowing properly through their factory.

However, Toyota managed to take inspiration from Ford and develop the idea to the next level. They introduced the Toyota Production System which introduced a shift of focus. This system meant that rather than looking at the use of machines, they would have a larger focus on flow throughout the manufacturing process. 

This is one of the best examples of real lean manufacturing because it set the standard for years to come. They improved the throughput of products so that they could meet the everchanging requirements of customers. This went hand-in-hand with their aims of reducing costs and improving their products.

historic manufacturing lean manufacturing

How To Practice Lean Manufacturing:

The use of lean manufacturing is something that is likely to increase profit and cut overheads, all while maintaining the same level of output. This might mean that you upskill some or all of your team members so that they can complete multiple parts of your manufacturing process. In doing this, you should be able to invest in machinery too, this is going to be a one-off payment that means you can cut costs in the long run and you’ll then be able to upskill your teams to use those machines. This might be cheaper than taking on hundreds of new staff members. 

The 5 Principles of Lean Manufacturing:

While everyone tells it a little differently, there are 5 basic principles of lean manufacturing that you need to adhere to. In doing this, you should be able to successfully incorporate a lean manufacturing process into your business so that you can perform at a higher level.

1. Value Perspective:

Value is not determined by the consumer, but created by the producer.

You need to realise that value is not determined by the consumer, but created by the producer (you). This means that you need to manufacture the best products or services possible so that the consumer can realise the value of those things. However, you need to do this at the best cost possible, because without that element you’re not lean.

In short, you need to know how valuable your product/service is so that you can charge the right price and pay the appropriate cost.

2. Value Stream Map:

READ: Lean Manufacturing - Effective Management System or Corporate Cult?

This is one of the most important parts of the process and it can’t be done to half measures! With this, you need to record and examine the flow of material and data that is required to produce a product or service. You can then look into producing in bulk and at mass if you wanted to. 

After this, you should be able to look at the data that you have and identify the wastage with each aspect of the business. You’ll be able to develop improvements that will benefit the business. This process is going to have to span the entire lifecycle of the product or service.

3. Create a Flow:

Create processes that allow for a streamlined movement throughout the company.

The flow of the manufacturing process can make or break a company - both manufacturer and customer if there is a B2B service. To maximise how effective the business is and develop a proper flow that will begin to benefit everyone, there needs to be a real evaluation of the business. 

To do this, you need to identify the problems and barriers that have an effect on the flow of manufacturing. That means that if there is only one person with access to a company credit account, but four people need to order materials, you need to create a solution that allows those 4 people to effectively order materials. Similarly, if you have to wait 5 days for materials to arrive due to a backlog of deliveries in the company you are purchasing from, can you send someone to collect them? Can you use your own delivery service?

Basically, create processes that allow for a streamlined movement throughout the company and in turn, the manufacturing process. The timeline between the initial enquiry and the finished product should be as fast as possible while maintaining a good quality of work. 

4. Use a Pull System:

Many manufacturers will operate on a push system/cycle in which they will produce products before there is demand. However, this creates uncertainty and means that you’ve invested a lot of money into producing a product that might not be bought, as the demand just might not be there.

The pull system means that you order materials and produce products as and when they are needed. This would mean that you don’t have huge amounts of money invested in a product; you more or less know that you’ll get a return on your investment.

The biggest problem with this system, however, is that there is a heavy reliance on perfect communication within the company. 

5. Kaizen… Perfection and Improvement:

Whatever you do to improve, it needs to be a constant movement towards the ‘perfect’ setup/process.

Kaizen is a Japanese business practice which means there is a continuous stream of improvement in performance and productivity. Without the strive for perfection through constant improvement, you can’t perform in a lean way. 

This could mean that you’re looking for innovative ways to upgrade your machinery or upskill your staff so that you can offer a better service and cut down costs. It might mean that you develop a new process that mitigates human errors. Whatever you do to improve, it needs to be a constant movement towards the ‘perfect’ setup/process.

In Summary:

It really isn’t the easiest thing to implement into a business, often when the owner tries to convert, they aren’t successful. But that is what will separate the successful business from the rest. 

Lean manufacturing means that you’re maximising profit and minimising overheads through various methods. It means that you can develop a better understanding of your business and help to provide constant, useful improvements so that you can better your offering. It really means that you’re operating with a minimalist mindset that helps to improve cash flow and processes!


Kerry Beeby, Pro Moulds Tooling - www.pro-moulds.co.uk

Pro Moulds is one of the UK’s leading tooling and injection moulding experts. Producing plastic injection moulded products across the country, they operate with lean manufacturing in mind.


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