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Lean 101 – What is the Philosophy of Lean Manufacturing?

A celebrated cornerstone of our culture here at Dion is the philosophy of lean manufacturing. We aspire to continuously improve our processes and empower our employees to make improvements at their own discretion. And so, we would like to take this month to discuss what lean is, and why it could benefit your organization.

The History of Lean

Lean manufacturing was inspired by Henry Ford’s famously innovative assembly line. Installed in December 1913, Ford’s moving assembly line was designed to streamline the manufacturing of his Model T car. His continuous flow system and mass production of interchangeable parts brought the Model T's production time from over 12 hours down to 1 hour and 33 minutes!

In 1950, Eiji Toyoda, nephew of Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda, visited Ford’s largest and most complex facility in Dearborn Michigan. Over the course of three months, Eiji studied Ford’s mass production system. He concluded that this system wouldn’t work in Japan because the Japanese market was too small and diverse for mass production. He felt that the customer’s voice was missing in Ford's process. Eiji then collaborated with Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer and businessman, to create the “Toyota Production System.” By introducing ideas of self-monitoring machines, right size volume, and right sized machines, they were able to produce more products at a lesser cost and with greater variety.

Learning Lean

It wasn’t until 1991 that the term “lean” was coined. James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos, authors of the book The Machine That Changed The World, wrote about their observations at Toyota. The Lean Enterprise Institute summarized their principle findings to the following:

  • Define value: What is the customer willing to pay for the product?
  • Map out the value stream: Using the customer value as a reference point, map out the activities that provide value and eliminate unnecessary activities.
  • Create a flow: After removing waste, ensure the remaining steps are running smoothly.
  • Establish a pull: Limit inventory and apply JIT (Just in Time) production to synch with customer demand.
  • Perfect: Continue to fine-tune and perfect processes.

Womack and Jones also recommend that managers and executives who want to begin lean practices focus on three fundamentals that should guide the transformation of the entire organization:

Purpose: What problem is the organization solving for the customer to achieve its own purpose of prospering?
Process: How will the organization assess each major value stream to make sure each step is valuable, capable, available, adequate, flexible, and that all the steps are linked by flow, pull, and leveling?
People: How can the organization ensure that every important process has someone responsible for continually evaluating that value stream in terms of business purpose and lean process? How can everyone touching the value stream be actively engaged in operating it correctly and continually improving it?

Eliminating Waste

What lean boils down to is eliminating wasteful processes to optimize the organization’s function and prosperity.  In other words, you're "trimming the fat" to obtain a "lean" product. There are seven different kinds of waste:

  • Transportation - Unnecessary movements of vehicles, parts, or the plant of machinery.
  • Inventory - Storing too much inventory or components.
  • Motion – Movement of people that adds nothing to the production process.
  • Waiting – Inactivity of people or machinery waiting for inputs.
  • Overproduction – producing more goods than required.
  • Over-processing – Having additional unnecessary steps in the production process.
  • Defects – Faults or errors that need re-work or scrapping.

Knowing the kinds of waste can help companies analyze their own processes. With practice, it becomes easier to recognize when a process is being wasteful, and work to correct it.

More to Come

We hope you enjoyed learning about the history and basic concepts of lean. Stay tuned for more on this manufacturing philosophy and how it could help your business!


By Aubrey Dion

Aubrey Dion is proud to be back working for the family business she grew up in. Over the years, she has performed a wide variety of jobs in both the office and factory, becoming a true "jack of all trades." Aubrey credits her quick learning ability to her strong theatre background, where memorization and attention to detail are vital. Working in the marketing department allows her to stay creative and work on exciting new projects for the company.


CIPS - What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean Enterprise Institure - What is Lean?

The Lean Way - What is Lean?