Simplifying Lean Manufacturing

There are a lot of buzz words to keep track of these days. In the manufacturing world, it seems, no term is bandied about more nowadays than lean manufacturing. It’s become jargon for engineers. But what does it really mean in plain English?

A visit to the Lean Enterprise Institute website spells out the basics of the “lean” philosophy: “The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.”

Use of the word “lean” in manufacturing was first popularized by Prof. James Womack at MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program in the late 1980s to describe the production methods formulated by Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. in its factories. (Womack later founded the Lean Enterprise Institute.) The lessons he learned from the managers at Toyota eventually started a manufacturing revolution in the United States.

Here’s how he explains the concept simply: “Lean thinking changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers. Eliminating waste along entire value streams, instead of at isolated points, creates processes that need less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to make products and services at far less costs and with much fewer defects, compared with traditional business systems. Companies are able to respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times.”

We put these ideas into practice at Shaw Development. We are committed to continuous product and process improvement and the elimination of non-value-added activities. We strive to find the most effective ways to use the basic factors of production—people, machines, materials, information, and energy—to make a product. That is because we view quality as customer satisfaction.

Nothing could be simpler.

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