Popularized by Toyota, lean manufacturing is all about cutting out waste to improve quality, reduce production time, and save money. It’s all about doing more with less, whether that’s material or a more immaterial approach such as improving flow to eliminate wasted time.

Lean is a terrific concept, and most companies would agree that higher productivity and lower waste using fewer resources is the dream. But it’s getting from current state to a lean state that can take time, effort, and dedication. While going lean doesn’t have to be painful, it is certainly made a lot easier with the right technology in place.

Lean Manufacturing 101

Lean manufacturing, a term first coined by those observing the Toyota production system in the 1990s, is also referred to simply as “lean.” It’s a system of waste minimization and maximization of resources that uses increments of progress and an “inch wide, mile deep” approach to production that emphasizes intense focus and support on individual areas of the manufacturing process.

As each area is addressed and potentially remediated, another area comes under scrutiny. The process is said to have revitalized Toyota and countless other manufacturing organizations and is now widely adopted by large-scale manufacturers. But don’t let that think that lean isn’t for your small or mid-size business. Lean can also be used in small-scale companies with 1,000 or fewer employees, because it’s a philosophy or an approach to manufacturing rather than a single process.

Tips for Going Lean

Transforming an existing manufacturing culture toward a lean model takes time and effort. First, it is essential for those leading the change to grasp the total concept of lean. If you plan to adopt the lean mindset, be sure that you understand all its nuances. It may help to visit a plant currently utilizing lean methods, take classes or courses, or read up on the concept.

When you are ready to begin a lean initiative in your company, keep the following tips in mind.

  1. Avoid using the term “pilot” or “program”: Both the terms pilot and program reflect a finite “we’re doing this and then we are done” mindset. Lean isn’t about trying a system and then moving on to the next. It’s a sea change for your entire organization. Pilots tend to be treated as throw-aways or tests. A program may imply a start and an end. But lean never ends. It involves ongoing change and always working toward something better. You may not need to call the new approach anything other than making the changes necessary and then letting the change speak for itself.
  2. Lead by example: You cannot expect workers to make significant changes in the way they approach their jobs if management maintains the status quo. Lead by example and practice what you preach.
  3. Offer a safe environment: Change, even when for the better, can be stressful and upsetting. Teams who have been working one way are now suddenly asked to work in a new, different way. Focus on creating a safe environment for teams to learn. Expect mistakes in the way people enact the new approach. Teach through coaching and by example. Let people know that mistakes aren’t in fact expected as they implement the new methods. (Do note: Mistakes are tolerated in the approach and implementation of lean, but should be eliminated in the manufactured product itself.)
  4. Create a roadmap: It’s crucial to map progress and steps taken to implement lean. This way, the process itself becomes replicable. Without a roadmap, teams may flounder in their search for the next right step in the implementation process.

Technology Supports the Lean Mindset

You can’t change what you don’t measure. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems provide the data you need to measure critical markers of progress such as cost overruns, time to market, speed of delivery, and more, all those metrics you need to determine exactly how lean you’re running. When you use the data from your ERP system, you’ll be able to focus and improve upon specific areas of your business. It’s the enactment of the lean mindset made easier through ERP.

Go Lean with ASI

No matter how big or small you feel your lean manufacturing initiative might be, ASI is here to help. With multiple options for software solutions from the cloud to on-premises to the most complex organization, ASI will make sure you get the solutions you need for lean manufacturing success. ASI has offices across the country, giving you a national reach with the feel of local support.

If you’re ready to go lean—or perhaps even leaner! —with your manufacturing process, let the professionals at ASI connect you to the right systems for your best chance at success. Talk to one of our consultants today.