Process efficiency to cut waste

What are Lean methods?


The term 'Lean' is now used commonly to describe a management system pioneered by the Japanese company, Toyota. It's called 'Lean' because its aim is to produce more while reducing inputs in terms of cost, time, space, energy and effort. The goal of Lean is to eliminate parts of the business process that are wasteful and do not add value for the customer.

Lean does not involve a one-off change - it is a continuous improvement methodology. The idea is that it is always possible to increase efficiency still further.

Lean tools

The main tools used in Lean are:

  • 5S (sort, set, shine, standardise and sustain) - workplace improvements based on tidiness, cleanliness and orderliness
  • Error Proofing/Poka-Yoke - implementing processes to prevent defects/errors
  • Just In Time (JIT) - strategy that strives to cut inventory by delivering components or materials where needed, when needed and in the amount needed
  • Kaizen - the method of making continuous incremental improvements
  • KanBan - related to JIT, the continuous supply of components, parts and supplies to work stations
  • Overall Equipment Effectiveness - measuring performance of equipment by availability, performance and quality
  • Single Minute Exchange of Die - process to create very fast changeovers and set-ups in machines, to reduce downtime and increase throughput
  • Takt time - the time in which one unit of work must be completed in order to meet customer demand
  • Total Productive Maintenance - planning equipment maintenance to reduce downtime and maintain efficiencies
  • Value Stream Mapping - a tool to visually represent the flow of material and information which depicts the relationship between work processes, differentiating between value-adding and non-value-adding activities
  • Work Cells/Cellular Manufacturing - work set-up where workers can move easily from one process to another, often producing a single model or assembly
  • Zero-defect - quality control procedures that aim to eliminate every defect as soon as it is identified

Balancing efficiency and environment with Lean

Reducing waste and using Lean methods involve the same language and tools. However, Lean methods may have negative impacts on the environment. For example, using JIT means cash is not tied up in stock but you get more frequent deliveries in smaller quantities and more containers - this may lead to more packaging and transport, although this can be offset by a reduction in obselete, unused or damaged stock.

You may need to weigh up the benefits of using Lean methods against the environmental impacts and costs they can have.