10 Useful Lean Manufacturing Tools

What if you could reduce waste, increase efficiency and deliver more value to customers? The answer lies in Lean manufacturing.

It sounds like an uphill battle, but with the right Lean manufacturing tools, driving out waste is easier than you might think.

Here are ten useful Lean manufacturing tools you need to get started.

10 Lean Manufacturing Tools to Jumpstart Your Efforts

Lean manufacturing tools are methods to help create a Lean environment and achieve goals around reduced waste, improved efficiency and increased customer value. The following list covers our top ten (of many) Lean manufacturing tools.

1) PDCA Problem Solving Cycle

PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act and offers a visual way to represent a typical problem solving cycle. It covers planning for a specific goal, doing the work required by that plan, checking the results of the work and acting to fix any unsatisfactory results. Like many Lean manufacturing tools, PDCA focuses on identifying and solving problems quickly. It also helps everyone involved see the impact of their role on the end product delivered to customers.

2) The Five Whys

The Five Whys is another one of several Lean manufacturing tools used to identify the root cause of a problem. Quite simply, it requires participants to continually ask “why?” questions (typically five or fewer times) to peel back the layers. This questioning allows teams to diagnose problems without any statistical analysis and often identifies multiple root causes and the relationships between them.

3) Continuous Flow (aka One Piece Flow)

Continuous Flow is a Lean manufacturing tool that calls on teams to manufacture smaller batches. That’s because smaller batches can go through the production system faster and because having smaller batches allows teams to regularly examine the output to make any necessary improvements for the next batch, thereby eliminating waste.

4) Cellular Manufacturing

Cellular manufacturing supports continuous flow by calling on teams to arrange workstations based on the parts they produce in order to minimize travel time for those parts and allow for rapid feedback across stations about any issues. Together, these two Lean manufacturing tools also enable teams to produce smaller, more efficient batches. Organizations typically achieve cellular manufacturing by arranging workstations in a “U” formation.

5) Five S

The Five S is another of the Lean manufacturing tools focused on workstations. Specifically, it dictates how teams should organize materials and keep workstations cLean to maximize efficiency. The five S’s are: Sort (remove any unnecessary materials), set in order (arrange materials so they are easy to find and access), shine (cLean the workspace regularly), standardize (make the previous three S’s a standard routine) and sustain (institute regular audits).

6) Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)

Total productive maintenance is a Lean manufacturing tool that emphasizes operational efficiency for equipment and safety for workers. Building on the Five S approach, TPM asks workers to help maintain their equipment to avoid accidents, breakdowns, defects and delays. Part of TPM is the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) metric, which measures the percentage of working time that is actually productive. OEE is based on scores for availability, performance speed and output quality. Multiplying these three numbers gives the OEE metric, with 85% best-in-class for organizations using Lean manufacturing tools, 60% average for organizations using Lean manufacturing tools and 40% average for organizations not embracing any Lean manufacturing tools.

7) Takt Time

Takt time is one of the Lean manufacturing tools focused on customer value. It measures the average rate at which teams must manufacture products to meet demand. To calculate takt time, divide the working time available for production (in hours, days, weeks) by the units required to meet customer demand. Using this Lean manufacturing tool, if a team works 40 hours a week and the company expects customers to buy 80 units a week, the takt time is 0.5 (40 / 80). This means the team must produce one unit in half an hour to meet customer demand.

8) Standardized Work

Standardized work and takt time are two Lean manufacturing tools that work together. Specifically, standardized work helps teams achieve their takt time by creating and documenting a set, repeatable process for how teams should function. For example, it documents the steps teams should take, the materials they need and the time required for each step.

9) Mistake Proofing

Mistake proofing focuses on detecting mistakes as they occur (either automatically through technology or manually through inspection) and notifying workers accordingly. Like all Lean manufacturing tools, it helps eliminate waste and increase efficiency, this time by surfacing errors as they occur to prevent defective parts from moving further down the process.

10) Leveling the Workload

Leveling the workload calls for teams to manufacture products consistently despite inconsistencies in customer demand. That means even though customers might buy 100 units one week and 60 units the next week, teams should maintain a consistent output over a set period of time (e.g. a week or a month). This consistency helps teams remain efficient since they do not need to switch setups to manufacture different products in unpredictable patterns.

Embracing Lean Manufacturing Tools

Embracing Lean manufacturing tools like those outlined above can go a long way toward helping your team increase efficiency and reduce costs. Most importantly, these Lean manufacturing tools can help you deliver a higher quality product to customers in a faster and more predictable way -- a win for both your operations and your customers.

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