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Frequently asked questions about Lean Manufacturing
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Here are some frequently asked questions on Lean Manufacturing. If you would like to comment, add to, or modify this list, contact the LEANMASTER... - - [Back to Top]
What is Lean Manufacturing/Lean Production?[Back to FAQ's]
Lean techniques are, in their most basic form, the systematic identification and elimination of waste (80%), and the implementation of the concepts of continuous flow and customer pull. The touted benefits of lean production systems are 50% lower production costs, 50% less personnel, 50% less time to field new products, higher quality, higher profitability, higher system flexibility, and more... However, by continually focusing on waste reduction, there are truly no end to the benefits that can be achieved.

Generally, 5 areas drive lean manufacturing/production: cost, quality, delivery, safety, and morale. Just as mass production is recognized as the production system of the 20th century, lean production is viewed as the production system of the 21st century.

What is the Lean Enterprise?[Back to FAQ's]
The 'Lean Enterprise' encompasses the entire production system, beginning with the customer, and includes the product sales outlet, the final assembler, product design, and all tiers of the supply chain (to include raw material mining and processing). Any truly 'lean' system is highly dependent on the demands of its customers and the reliability of its suppliers. No implementation of lean manufacturing can reach its full potential without including the entire 'enterprise' in its planning.
What are the elements of Lean Manufacturing?[Back to FAQ's]
The basic elements of are waste elimination, continuous one-piece workflow, and customer pull. When these elements are focused in the areas of cost, quality, and delivery, this forms the basis for an effective lean production system.
Why are Japanese terms typically used in defining lean principles?[Back to FAQ's]
Typically, these terms are used (and misused) in order to convey broad concepts with iconic (representative) terminology. Once properly explained, the term KANBAN can be more descriptive than THOSE LITTLE CARDS WHICH HELP US CONTROL PRODUCT MOVES. However, use of these terms can have a negative effect, especially if the culture of a particular organization is predisposed against all things non-American. Choose carefully the training methods (and terms) you use when conveying lean tools and methods, and you will have a much easier time during your lean implementation.

For a list of 'lean definitions', click here.

If less personnel are required in a 'lean facility', what is done with 'surplus personnel'?
This is best illustrated in the Lean Personnel Model.
Are 'lean' techniques applicable in a service-oriented industry or office environment?[Back to FAQ's]
Every 'system' contains waste. Whether you are producing a product, processing a material, or providing a service, there are elements which are considered 'waste' (or, said another way, something that does not provide value to your customer). The techniques for analyzing systems, identifying and reducing waste, and focusing on the customer are applicable in any system, and in any industry. Some of the industries and sectors discussed on NWLEAN include:
  • Manufacturing
  • Production
    (discreet, continuous)
  • Assembly
  • Maintenance
    (including repair, re-manufacturing)
  • Services
  • Government application
  • Various other industry segments
    (see toolbar at top of page)
Are there any published standards for implementing lean techniques?[Back to FAQ's]
The Society of Automotive Engineers has published standards SAE J4000 (Identification and Measurement of Best Practice in Implementation of Lean Operation) and SAE J4001 (Implementation of Lean Operation User Manual). These standards are structured like a '5S' type implementation, and are 'high level concept, low level detail' documents.

Any implementation of lean techniques will necessarily be fundamentally different, depending on various factors (such as industry, internal culture, internal business considerations). The tools used to implement lean operations, and the order in which you apply/combine them, are highly dependent on whether you are primarily a discrete manufacturer, continuous producer, or provider of a service.

The SAE standards provide a very good skeleton or framework, but it remains incumbent upon each organization to identify the correct mix of tools and techniques which will provide the 'meat', or bottom line relevance, to the lean implementation.

Here are some of the common terms found in Lean Manufacturing. If you would like to comment or make additions to this list, contact the LEANMASTER... [Back to Top]

[A thru F] [G thru L] [M thru S] [T thru Z]
andon - a system of flashing lights used to indicate production status in one or more work centers; the number of lights and their possible colors can vary, even by work center within a plant; however, the traditional colors and their meanings are:
green - no problems
yellow - situation requires attention
red - production stopped; attention urgently needed
autonomation - in Toyota parlance, automation with a human touch; English translation of jidoka (see below).

bakayoke - literally, 'fool-proofing', this term quickly fell into disuse as it was perceived by workers as being applicable to 'fools' (baka). A more descriptive term is poke-yoke (see below).

cellular manufacturing - an approach in which manufacturing work centers [cells] have the total capabilities needed to produce an item or group of similar items; contrasts to setting up work centers on the basis of similar equipment or capabilities, in which case items must move among multiple work centers before they are completed; the term group technology is sometimes used to distinguish cells that produce a relatively large family [group] of similar items.

cycle time - the normal time to complete an operation on a product. This in NOT the same as takt time (see below), which is the rate at which customers are demanding a product.

error-proofing - a manufacturing technique of preventing production errors by designing the manufacturing process, equipment, and tools so that an operation literally cannot be performed incorrectly (see poke-yoke).

ERP - Enterprise Resource Planning. The techniques of MRPII (see below) adapted to all areas of an organization, as opposed to just within manufacturing/production. Usually implemented as a comprehensive (and therefore expensive) software solution, used to manage all aspects of a business.

5S - refers to the five words seiri, seiton, seison, seiketsu, shitsuke (see below for definitions). These words are shorthand expressions for principles of maintaining an effective, efficient workplace. 5S refers to a structured program of using these principles as the basis for continuous improvement in the workplace.

5 Why's - a simple technique, used to reveal the 'root cause' (as opposed to symptoms) of a problem. The technique asks 'why' the symptom occurred, 'why' the situation which allowed the symptom exists, and so on, until the root cause is finally discovered. Eliminating the root cause prevents the symptom from ever occurring again. If it does occur, the root cause was not properly addressed.

HINT - if your '5 Why' exercise seems to be pointing to 'operator error' as the root cause, you are going down the wrong path. Operators only do what our production systems allow them to do, so the root cause is in our systems, not our workers.

flexible manufacturing system - an integrated manufacturing capability to produce small numbers of a great variety of items at low unit cost; an FMS is also characterized by low changeover time and rapid response time.

[Back to Definitions]

gemba - The shop floor, workplace, or work site.

heijunka - A production scheduling/leveling tool, essentially to distribute kanban cards in an efficient manner.

hosin planning - Policy management or Strategy deployment. A method for establishing goals (and policy which supports and enhances those goals) and ensuring that these goals are the primary focus of the organization.

jidoka - a Japanese word which translates as autonomation; a form of automation in which machinery automatically inspects each item after producing it, ceasing production and notifying humans if a defect is detected; Toyota expands the meaning of jidoka to include the responsibility of all workers to function similarly, i.e. to check every item produced and to make no more if a defect is detected, until the cause of the defect has been identified and corrected.

jishu kanri - self-management, or voluntary participation.

just-in-time - a production scheduling concept that calls for any item needed at a production operation - whether raw material, finished item, or anything in between, to be produced and available precisely when needed, neither a moment earlier nor later.

jutsu - to talk, or ‘the art of’ (i.e., 'leanjutsu: the art of lean production').

kaikaku - A rapid and radical change process, sometimes used as a precursor to kaizen activities.

kaizen - the philosophy of continual improvement, that every process can and should be continually evaluated and improved in terms of time required, resources used, resultant quality, and other aspects relevant to the process.

kanban - a card or sheet used to authorize production or movement of an item; when fully implemented, kanban (the plural is the same as the singular) operates according to the following rules:

  1. All production and movement of parts and material take place only as required by a downstream operation, i.e. all manufacturing and procurement are ultimately driven by the requirements of final assembly or the equivalent.

  2. The specific tool which authorizes production or movement is called a kanban. The word literally means card or sign, but it can legitimately refer to a container or other authorizing device. Kanban have various formats and content as appropriate for their usage; for example, a kanban for a vendor is different than a kanban for an internal machining operation.

  3. The quantity authorized per individual kanban is minimal, ideally one. The number of circulating or available kanban for an item is determined by the demand rate for the item and the time required to produce or acquire more. This number generally is established and remains unchanged unless demand or other circumstances are altered dramatically; in this way inventory is kept under control while production is forced to keep pace with shipment volume. A routine exception to this rule is that managers and workers are continually exhorted to improve their processes and thereby reduce the number of kanban required.

karoshi - death from overwork.

lean enterprise - all aspects of an organization, from the beginning of the supply chain, thru the production process, and including your customer base. As you 'lean' your organization, you will find that certain contraints exist outside of your company. These constraints must be dealt with in order to further improve operations, so the supply chain, regulatory authorities, and even your customers must be involved in your lean efforts.

lean manufacturing or lean production - the philosophy of continually reducing waste in all areas and in all forms; an English phrase coined to summarize Japanese manufacturing techniques (specifically, the Toyota Production System).

line balancing - equalizing cycle times [productive capacity, assuming 100% capacity utilization] for relatively small units of the manufacturing process, through proper assignment of workers and machines; ensures smooth production flow.

[Back to Definitions]

mistake-proofing - a manufacturing technique of providing a signal when an error is about to be introduced into the production process. Many times, this is in the form of a checklist.

mixed-model production - capability to produce a variety of models, that in fact differ in labor and material content, on the same production line; allows for efficient utilization of resources while providing rapid response to marketplace demands.

mizusumashi - the classic 'water spider', who performs a wide range of tasks which allow workers to perform 'value-added' tasks.

mokeru - the Japanese term for the industrial engineering, more properly translated as ‘profit-making I.E.’.

muda (waste) - activities and results to be eliminated. There are 7 categories of waste:

  1. Excess production and early production
  2. Delays
  3. Movement and transport
  4. Poor process design
  5. Inventory
  6. Inefficient performance of a process
  7. Making defective items

mura - inconsistency or variation

muri - unreasonableness

MRP/MRPII - Material Requirements Planning. A technique (usually augmented with software) for planning for production material requirements, based on historic usage, historic production and delivery lead times, and EOQ costing. MRPII software programs have the added capability for capacity planning, scheduling, and shop floor control. The scheduling and shop floor components of MRPII are highly unreliable (unless perfect forecasts are available, which never are) and tend to introduce huge overhead costs in terms of inventory and production lead times.

nagara - smooth production flow, ideally one piece at a time, characterized by synchronization [balancing] of production processes and maximum utilization of available time, including overlapping of operations where practical.

ninjutsu - the art of invisibility (applies to management).

non-value-added - those actions in the workplace that the customer is not willing to pay for. (See value below)

one-piece flow - the concept of reducing production batch/lot sizes to minimal size, preferable to a single unit. This can have dramatic affects on raw material, WIP, and finished goods inventories, as well as on production lead times, quality, and costs.

Pareto chart - a tool (histogram or vertical bar chart) used for analyzing the relative occurrence of defects, developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, circa A.D. 1900. Pareto's Law refers to Pareto's observation that wealth distribution generally follows a pattern where 20% of people control 80% of all wealth. This principle has been generalized to show that, in general, 20% of categories contain 80% of the data, and hence is also known as the 80/20 rule.

poka-yoke - 'mistake-proofing', a means of providing a visual or other signal to indicate a characteristic state. Often referred to as 'error-proofing', poke-yoke is actually the first step in truly error-proofing a system. Error-proofing is a manufacturing technique of preventing errors by designing the manufacturing process, equipment, and tools so that an operation literally cannot be performed incorrectly.

pull system - a manufacturing planning system based on communication of actual real-time needs from downstream operations (ultimately final assembly or the equivalent). Contrast with PUSH systems, which schedule operations according to theoretical downstream result, based on a 'best-guess' planning, MRP, or equivalent.

seiri - or SORT; eliminating everything not required for the work being performed. The first 'S' (see 5S, above.)

seiton - or STANDARDIZE; efficient placement and arrangement of equipment and material. The second 'S' (see 5S, above.)

seison - or SANITIZE; maintain tidiness and cleanliness in the workplace. The third 'S' (see 5S, above)

seiketsu - or SUSTAIN; ongoing, standardized, continually improving seiri, seiton, seison. The fourth 'S' (see 5S, above.)

shitsuke - discipline with leadership. The fifth 'S' (see 5S, above.)

seiban - Seiban is the name of a Japanese management practice taken from the Japanese words "sei", which means manufacturing, and "ban", which means number. A Seiban number is assigned to all parts, materials, and purchase orders associated with a particular customer job, or with a project, or anything else. This enables a manufacturer to track everything related with a particular product, project, or customer. It also facilitates setting aside inventory for specific projects or priorities. That makes it great for project and build-to-order manufacturing.

sensei - one who provides information; a teacher, instructor, or rabbi.

setup time - work required to change over a machine or process from one item or operation to the next item or operation; can be divided into two types:

  1. internal: setup work that can be done only when the machine or process is not actively engaged in production; OR
  2. external: setup work that can be done concurrently with the machine or process performing production duties.

saki - a rice wine, preferably served warmed.

shojinka - continually optimizing the number of workers in a work center to meet the type and volume of demand imposed on the work center; shojinka requires workers trained in multiple disciplines; work center layout, such as U-shaped or circular, that supports a variable number of workers performing the tasks in the layout; the capability to vary the manufacturing process as appropriate to fit the demand profile.

SMED - abbreviation for Single Minute Exchange of Die; literally, changing a die on a forming or stamping machine in a minute or less; broadly, the ability to perform any setup activity in a minute or less of machine or process downtime; the key to doing this is frequently the capability to convert internal setup time to external setup time; variations on SMED include:

  1. Single-digit setup: performing a setup activity in a single-digit number of minutes, i.e. fewer than ten.
  2. OTED: One touch exchange of die; literally, changing a die with one physical motion such as pushing a button; broadly, an extremely simple procedure for performing a setup activity.

soikufu - creative thinking or inventive ideas. As part of a comprehensive teian system, allowing and encouraging soikufu ensures personal participation and contribution in the continuous improvement process.

sushi - a seaweed wrap, containing rice and other ingredients (most notably but not exclusively, raw fish), particularly good for your health and heart, and available in wide variety.

[Back to Definitions]

takt time - takt, is a German term for rhythm. Takt time is the rate at which customers are demanding a product. This is NOT the same as cycle time, which is the normal time to complete an operation on a product (which should be less than or equal to takt time).

teian - a proposal, proposition, or suggestion. A teian system is a system which encourages and allows workers to actively propose and implement no-cost and low-cost process improvements. (See SOIKUFU.)

Toyota - modification of Toyoda, meaning abundant rice field, by the Toyota marketing department. Toyoda is the family name of the founders of the Toyota Motor Company.

value - From the perspective of the customer, those aspects or features of our products they are willing to pay for.

value-added - Those production steps that transform raw materials directly into the features for which the customer assigns value.

water spider - one who performs a wide range of tasks which allow workers to perform 'value-added' tasks.

WIP - Work-in-Process inventory, or inventory that exists (in batches) between workstations.

WCM - world class manufacturing is the philosophy of being the best, the fastest, and the lowest cost producer of a product or service. It implies the constant improvement of products , processes, and services to remain an industry leader and provide the best choice for customers, regardless of where they are in the process.

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