Lean manufacturing is an inventory-management and manufacturing strategy that companies implement to reduce costs, increase productivity and gain a competitive advantage. The techniques lean manufacturing-organizations use to move materials through the company result in significant reductions in cost and time. Developing lean strategies in an organization requires involvement of all employees from the top down.
A lean organization maintains just enough stock to complete orders. Customer orders trigger purchases of materials to meet the requirements of the order. Large inventories of materials and supplies ties up funds, that a company could use to grow and drive itself forward.
Reduced Lead Time
Lean organizations use a pull method to move materials and products through the production process. A pull system requires the next step in a production process to pull the product through only when it is prepared. For example, some organizations use a batch system to move materials through the production process. Only when a batch is completed at the next workstation can product be moved forward. The ideal in lean manufacturing is a single-piece process with one product moving through the production line at a time. This eliminates bottlenecks in the process and reduces lead-time. A reduction in lead-time improves customer service, which can give a company a competitive advantage in the market.
Lean manufacturing systems focus on making small quality improvements in company processes to improve the overall quality of the product. Improving the quality of the product and the process improves reliability and customer satisfaction. In a lean manufacturing system, employees have the power to make improvements at any stage in the process. For example, employees at each workstation must ensure the product meets quality standards before moving it on to the next workstation. Workers can send a product back to the previous station if it does not meet specifications. The system builds quality checks and inspections into the process instead of inspecting the product at the end of the line.
Quality improvement techniques allow workers to participate in changes to processes and production methods. Empowering workers to participate in change increases morale, which increases productivity. A productive and empowered workforce increases production rates and reduces costly employee turnover.