What is Lean Manufacturing and what are its principles?

The Lean Manufacturing philosophy is a business organisation system that focuses on improving the system of production. This improvement is based on the elimination of activities that do not add value to the process or the client, minimising losses of the production systems, while maximising the creation of value for the end customer.

The methodology was born in Japan in the 1980s, to achieve greater efficiency in the automotive manufacturing process. It was so successful that it became an essential approach for most companies and organisations.

The Lean methodology is effective at any stage of the production process. Due to its flexibility, it is applicable to a wide variety of companies. Lean Manufacturing is based on a series of principles that pursue Continuous Improvement:

-       Value: It is essential to firstly identify the value that the company offers to the consumer, which differentiates it from the competition. Bear in mind that, sometimes, the value of the company itself does not match the value of the customer. It is therefore important to perform a preliminary investigation to correctly identify value.

-       Value streams: Value streams refer to the complete cycle of the product or service and each of the stages of the process. An evaluation of these value streams will identify potential opportunities for improvement, and to eliminate waste.

-       Create streams: maintaining a good stream and establishing an order will avoid delays or interruptions that can reduce the efficiency of the business, and of the different processes. Delays can lead to disruptions in customer value.

-       Establish pull systems: A pull system helps maintain streams, with production managed to order, and according to specific customer demand. Both waste creation, and stock held, are reduced.

-       Seek perfection: Seeking new forms of improvement and constant innovation will contribute to the reduction of waste and improve business optimisation and efficiency. In this principle, the Kaizen methodology for continuous improvement can help companies to implement small changes for significant improvement, involving workers.

There are different tools that allow correct implementation of Lean Manufacturing. An example is the 5S Methodology. This is based on five steps ('Five S') for the fulfilment of Lean objectives and continuous improvement.
In short, Lean Manufacturing aims to optimise business processes, in order to use fewer resources. It contributes to making an organisation more competitive, more innovative, and more efficient.

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