A Comprehensive Guide for Understanding The 5 Principles of Lean Manufacturing

A Comprehensive Guide for Understanding The 5 Principles of Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing involves the implementation of improvements in the production process to help in improved efficiency. The end goal of lean manufacturing is to cut down on waste and improve on quality.

The concept of lean manufacturing revolves around five core principles. These principles are first enunciated in the book “Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in your Corporation” written by James Womack and Dan Jones.

If a company wants to implement lean, then the starting point should be a thorough understanding of these five principles.

5 lean principles
image credit: Lean Enterprise Institute

The Five Principles of Lean Manufacturing

The five principles that form the basis of lean manufacturing are:

  1. Define value
  2. Map the value stream
  3. Create flow
  4. Establish pull
  5. Pursue perfection

Understanding these five principles and putting them into practice can help companies get the best results from lean manufacturing. When the first four principles are implemented, it would lead to reduction is waste. The fifth principle allows companies to focus on improvement, which is the key to moving ahead in today’s competitive world.

When these principles are applied, they can be helpful in every stage of production right from research until delivery. The idea behind these principles is that a company must improve its efficiency while creating maximum value for its customers.

Mercedes-Benz manufacturing plant
Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Plant located in Tuscaloosa County. Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

Understanding The Five Principles

1. Define value

Value is the starting point for lean manufacturing. Value is what the customer pays for. It determines whether a customer will buy your product or not. When a customer feels that your product offers value, only then will they spend money on it. Therefore, it is very important for companies to define this value.

Value helps companies to set their pricing. Defining value is importance since what the company thinks and what the customer thinks could be at variance. It is important to understand what is value according to customers. This can be done through surveys, customer interviews, and collecting data.

2. Map the value stream

Once customer value is identified, this would work as a reference. Based on this, the value stream needs to be mapped. This involves identifying all the activities in the production process that delivers value. If there is any activity that does not contribute to value, then such an activity is a waste.

Here, there can be two types of waste. The first is that which has no value and is not necessary. This is a totally wasteful activity and should be eliminated to reduce costs.

The second is activities that add no value but are needed. These activities may be continued with. When the value mapping is done effectively, it helps to identify reason for delays and also helps in identifying areas for improvement.

3. Create Flow

The next principles talks of creating a smooth flow for the process. If the flow is obstructed or blocked, it causes waste. This waste can be in the form of delays that affects timelines or extra costs for storage. This leads to reduced efficiency and disruption in value.

Proper synchronization of all activities is the key to ensuring smooth flow and removal of obstructions.

Manufacturing robots

4. Pull

Traditionally, manufacturing works on a push system. It involves pushing production based on forecasts and estimates. The problem with the push system is if forecasts go wrong, it can affect production and lead to losses. The solution is a pull system. This system waits for an order from the customer to pull the process and take it forward.

The pull system uses methods like just-in-time so there is no excess inventory and production caters to customer needs. Tools like Kanban can help in making the pull system work in practice.

5. Pursue perfection

The aim of lean manufacturing is the ‘relentless pursuit of perfection’. At every stage in the process, when problems are encountered, they need to be handled properly.

Every problem should be analyzed to find the cause. Once the root cause is identified, action should be taken to prevent problems from repeating. Every member of the company and each process should focus on perfection so that the customers’ needs are completely addressed to deliver value.

There should be a focus on continual improvement so the company gets a little better every day.

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