Lean Manufacturing Ideas

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Lean manufacturing is now a broadly recognizable business practice, but it is also one that is going a bit stale. Lean is based largely upon the Toyota Production System (TPS), which Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno detailed in his 1978 book “Toyota Production System, Beyond Large-Scale Production.” Lean is a concept of driving the waste out of processes and production, to deliver zero-defect, customer-pleasing and highly profitable product. Even Toyota struggles to do that, as the Toyota recalls revealed in early 2010. There exist several methods to revivify a faltering lean manufacturing enterprise.

Lean Wireless

Incorporate wireless automation technology into production for order tracking. This eliminates the waste of manual data entry and helps you to identify defects and bottlenecks in a process, with real-world information.

Lean typically advocates “rules, not tools,” in perfecting business processes and to eliminate waste in all its forms (like defective product and excessive movement). However, enterprises including Boeing, Whirlpool and the United States Air Force, all of whom are recognized lean leaders, also have strong programs in place to implement wireless technology. SAP AG CEO Claus Heinrich referred to this as “real world awareness” in his book “RFID and Beyond.” Each of these initiatives makes use of radio-frequency identification, or RFID, which are rather like a radio-enabled bar code.

Boeing, for example, gives some of its shop floor employees BlackBerry devices by which they may seek instant approval of engineering change. Contrast this to the quality circles and A3 forms (by which employees suggest improvements) that lean production calls for.

Ford uses a wireless shop floor inventory replenishment system which it estimates has saved it between $200,000 and $500,000 in labor at each of 35 plants over the course of a year.

Value Streams

Lean practices favor the “value stream,” the direct route through a company’s processes, which ultimately fulfill the customer. So, someone on the production floor at the automotive plant is on the value stream; so too are the workers in outbound shipping. Someone who works in the company cafeteria is not on the value stream, nor is a security guard or company nurse, or anyone in marketing or corporate communications. In a lean organization, those functions tend to be overlooked and undervalued.

Recognize the enterprise itself as a customer, and drive out the waste and defects in those processes. Consider that a company cafeteria might cost money to run but it eliminates the waste of employee tardiness in returning to work. It also allows a company to have shorter lunch breaks. Consider that 200 workers require 200 labor hours to each take a one-hour lunch. If each employee eats on-site and has 45 minutes for lunch, you have regained (200 x .25 hours) or 50 hours of labor per day, and 250 hours per week, or 13,000 hours over the course of a year.

Social Media

Use social media to trade ideas for improvement among employees.

Younger employees (often called "Millennials") particularly enjoy using applications like FaceBook to stay connected. Social media are practically free and can take the place of in-person meetings like quality circles and kaizen meetings (a quality-driving and waste-reducing methodology). They can also ensure consistency across operations; so, two remote operations, perhaps one in Washington and one in Connecticut, share their successes instantly.


Use the Internet, with secure portals and wireless information gathering, to allow yourself and your customers a view into shop floor operations.

Boeing, the Department of Defense (DoD) and WalMart all require these capabilities from their suppliers. This achieves three things: first, it pleases the customer, which is one of the basic tenets of lean; it frees up labor both within your operations and at your customer's, in chasing order status; and it enables your customer to allocate labor based on real-world conditions, not on outdated projections, which eliminates idle time for the customer.


  • "Thin Air: How Wireless Technology Fulfills the Lean Mission"; Louis Sirico and Dann Maurno; 2010
  • "RFID and Beyond"; Claus Heinrich; 2005
  • “Wireless Mobility Enhances, Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma"; Ralph Rio, ARC Advisory Group; 2008


About the Author

Dan Antony began his career in the sciences (biotech and materials science) before moving on to business and technology, including a stint as the international marketing manager of an ERP provider. His writing experience includes books on project management, engineering and construction, and the "Internet of Things."

Photo Credits

  • business production dollar image by Nicemonkey from Fotolia.com