The Fundamentals of Lean Course

15 Essential Lean Manufacturing Tools and Principles

Of the many lean manufacturing tools and principles in use today, these are some of the fundamental tools and principles you must understand to have a basic familiarity with lean.

Use this guide start-to-finish for a general overview of lean manufacturing tools, or skip to the topic of your choosing using the quick links below.

Quick Links

#1 Value and Waste

Value and Waste Process Diagram

What is value?

Value is defined as “whatever the customer wants.”

A value-adding activity is therefore an activity that creates value for the customer. This is something like: snapping, bending, stitching, sawing, painting, filling, etc.

What is waste?

Waste is everything else that is not value-added. There are 7 identified forms of waste, which include the following:

  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over processing
  • Over production
  • Defects

An 8th waste is sometimes added to represent wasted human potential. This is the waste of a disengaged workforce and is typically a failure of management.

Why does value and waste matter?

Eliminating waste is at the heart of lean manufacturing and central to the world class performance achieved by lean organizations.

Waste is everywhere and in everything that we do; the opportunity for improvement is found in eliminating these wastes. Then, value can flow!

#2 Stability (and the 4M)

Stability and the 4M of the lean house

What is stability and the 4M?

Stability is a prerequisite to any performing process. It can be evaluated via the 4M’s of man, machine, material, and method.

If there is instability in any of these four categories, the process will not support lean methods and continuous improvement. If you try to move forward, you may even find yourself like a dog chasing its tail!

Why does stability matter?

Every other activity or tool you might use with lean depends on sufficient stability of the process in question. You must learn to see instability for what it is and learn to stabilize it before moving forward.

#3 Standard Work (or Standardized Work)

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Standard Work Examples

What is standard work?

Standard work is a scientific approach to stabilizing the methods used in an activity. There are many ways to document standard work but make no mistake: this is not just a “standard operating procedure” (SOP)!

Standard work comes in the common forms of traditional standardized work, a simple 8-step process, TWI job instruction, video, and more.

Why does standard work matter?

In the famous words of Taichii Ohno, “Without a standard there can be no kaizen.” Standard work is the starting point for kaizen and the baseline for continuous improvement. Without it, there is nothing to compare to.

Massive performance gains can be achieved by stabilizing production methods with standard work and training effectively. It also aids in quality, problem-solving, team member engagement, and continuous improvement.

#4 5S

Lean Manufacturing Tools: 5S Red Tag Sort Example

What is 5S?

5S is a productivity tool that increases efficiency and makes abnormalities visible.

It’s composed of five disciplines: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain.

Why does 5S matter?

If you’re going to do well with lean, it’s important to master the basics. 5S is one of them!

It’s a primary tool to preserve the output of processes and make problems visible.

#5 Kaizen (aka Continuous Improvement)

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Kaizen Good Change

What is kaizen?

Kaizen is the Japanese word for “good change” and represents the idea of continuous improvement.

Very often, people misunderstand kaizen to be an event-based practice scheduled over 5+ days of focused activity.

But the deeper and truer meaning of kaizen is the practice of creating small changes made by everyone, every day, everywhere.

Why does kaizen matter?

In many regards, kaizen is the essence of lean and the Toyota Production System. It’s a system of continuous improvement in which everyone participates every day.

If you don’t learn to practice kaizen, you’ll never eliminate waste at a world-class level.

#6 Heijunka (aka Leveled Production)

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Heijunka Production Schedule Bad

What is heijunka?

Heijunka is the lean concept of “leveled production” and is essential to establishing stability. It is a hallmark of a flexible lean production system.

Toyota uses a specific kind of production leveling called “every part every interval” (EPEI), but other methods of production leveling exist.

Why does heijunka matter?

It’s one of the ultimate forms of stabilization, which eliminates waste and makes your production system predictable.

#7 Visual Management (aka Visual Factory or Visual Controls)

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Visual Management Examples

What is visual management?

Visual management has to do with the scientific managing of processes following the PDCA method of comparing expected vs. actual performance.

It is more than simply making the workplace colorful and labelled! It’s also more than extensive use of charts, graphs, and data.

Why does visual management matter?

Visual management is like the nerve-system of a lean organization. It is a feedback-loop system that accelerates problem-solving and preserves the output of production processes.

It is also considered a crucial component for creating a lean culture (along with leader standard work and daily accountability).

#8 Continuous Flow

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Continuous Flow Example

What is continuous flow?

Continuous flow is about making processes move in small batches vs. big batches, and “one-piece flow” is the ideal. Various methods are used to improve flow including cellular manufacturing, kanban (pull systems), quick changeover, and minimum lot sizes.

Why does continuous flow matter?

Massive benefits can be achieved for lead time reduction, productivity, quality, and operational flexibility using the concept of continuous flow.

#9 Takt Time

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Takt Time Meter

What is takt time?

Takt time is the pace of production and is calculated by dividing planned production time by customer demand. For example, this results in a rate of 46 seconds per part.

Why does takt time matter?

It is used as a design specification in continuous flow processes so that the flow of production activities is smooth and steady. This eliminates the waste of overburden (muri) and unevenness (mura).

It is also used effectively to assess actual vs. expected performance, since the expected performance is determined using takt time.

#10 Kanban (Pull Systems)

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Kanban 2 Bin Pull System

What is kanban?

Kanban is a physical or digital signal that triggers production activities in small batches, and only when needed! It comes in various forms including: a kanban card, a 2 bin system, or kanban supermarket.

Why does kanban matter?

It’s not always possible to create one-piece flow or continuous flow between all operations. In these situations a pull system is useful to “pull” material and information to where it is needed.

With these two strategies (pull systems and continuous flow) the wastes of traditional batch-and-queue manufacturing can be wonderfully reduced.

#11 Quick Changeover (aka SMED)

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Quick Changeover Internal vs External Time

What is a quick changeover?

A quick changeover is a strategy of reducing setup times associated with changeover activities. In many cases, setups can be reduced to a “single digit” i.e. less than 10 minutes.

This is a synonym for the Toyota term “single minute exchange of die” (SMED).

Why do quick changeovers matter?

Reducing batch size is cost-prohibitive for equipment designed for batch processing unless the setup time can be reduced.

By applying quick changeover concepts and reducing setup times, the batch size is reduced, work in process (WIP) inventories are reduced, and flow is improved.

#12 Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Value Stream Map Example

What is value stream mapping?

Value stream mapping is a tool used to draw, analyze, and improve the flow of material and information through a “value stream.” The value stream is the complete series of activities required to produce a product or service from start to finish.

Why does value stream mapping matter?

This tool allows management to strategically redesign a value stream from its current state into a desired future state.

It can be used to plan the conversion of entire product families from traditional methods into lean methods of continuous flow and pull.

#13 Jidoka

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Jidoka & Andon Example

What is jidoka?

Built-in quality, automation with abnormality detection, andon, and multi-process handling are all contained within the concept of jidoka.

With this practice in play, equipment, team members, and processes immediately stop whenever a problem or abnormality is detected.

Why does jidoka matter?

Jidoka is a mindset and set of practices used to create world class first time quality. Instead of endlessly firefighting, lean organizations apply jidoka methods to build quality in at the source.

#14 Problem Solving

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Two Types of Problem-Solving

What is problem solving?

Lean problem-solving typically draws from an common assortment of tools and a clear problem-solving process.

This problem-solving process is characterized by defining problems in the context of the big picture, thinking multi-dimensionally, going to the gemba, applying the PDCA cycle (Deming Cycle), and documenting the problem-solving effort in a standard format.

Why does problem solving matter?

Disciplined and scientific problem-solving is at the core of lean thinking. To make progress and reach your goals, you’ll have to learn how to flex these problem-solving muscles.

#15 Lean Management

Lean Manufacturing Tools: Traditional vs Lean Management

What is lean management?

Lean management is a “paradigm-shift” from traditional management and can be understood through cultural artifacts of lean management and less tangible management behavior.

The cultural artifacts are often captured through the trinity of practices of leader standard work, a daily accountability process, and visual controls.

Less tangible cultural characteristics include humility, elevating the role of the team leader and team member, learn by doing, scientific experimentation, failing early and often, and more.

Why does lean management matter?

Lean tools don’t stick unless the management system is also converted towards lean management practices.

If you’re going to “become lean,” you can’t overlook the importance of transforming your management system and underlying beliefs and practices.

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