Are You A Manufacturer? Have You Heard About Lean Manufacturing?

lm1When John Krafcik, as a young quality engineer at Toyota decided to embark on his MBA studies at MIT Sloan School of Management, little did he know that his area of study would later revolutionarise the manufacturing industry. In 1988, he wrote an article “Triumph of the Lean Production System,” based on his master’s thesis that led to a new model commonly referred to as Lean Principles.

Lean manufacturing or lean production, also often times referred to as just “Lean” is a systematic method for the elimination of waste within a manufacturing system. Lean also takes into account waste created through overburden and waste created through unevenness in workloads. Working from the perspective of the client who consumes a product or service, “value” is any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for. Lean manufacturing’s biggest strength comes from building on their experiences, including learning from their mistakes.

Lean manufacturing is the set of “tools” that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste. As waste is eliminated quality improves while production time and cost are reduced. The popular approach to using The Lean Manufacturing principles is one where the focus  is on improving the “flow” or smoothness of work, thereby steadily eliminating unevenness through the system and not upon ‘waste reduction’ per se. This is a fundamentally different approach from most improvement methodologies, and requires considerably more persistence than basic application of the tools, which may partially account for its lack of popularity.

There are many tools used under lean manufacturing but the common one among small and medium sized units is the 5S.  The 5S model is designed to improve workplace efficiency through facility-wide organization and cleanliness. Each of the 5S guidelines help managers and workers achieve greater organization, standardization, and efficiency—all while reducing costs and boosting productivity. Some core principles of the 5S concept involve creating and maintaining visual order, organization, cleanliness, and standardization.  With these goals in place, the hope is that workplaces can become more efficient, organized, and equipped to carry out daily tasks in a safe manner.

Detailed description of the 5S program is given here below;

1. Sort

This focuses on eliminating unnecessary items from the workplace. An effective visuallm2 method to identify these unnecessary items is called “red tagging.” A red tag is placed on all items not required to complete the job. These items are then moved to a central holding area. This process is for evaluation of the red tag items. Occasionally-used items are moved to a more organized storage location outside of the work area while unnecessary items are discarded. Sorting is an excellent way to free up valuable floor space and eliminate such things as broken tools, obsolete jigs and fixtures, scrap and excess raw material.

2. Set in order

It focuses on efficient and effective storage and workplace organization methods and can be summarized with the old adage “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Questions to ask include: What is needed to do this job? Where should this item be located? How many of each item is needed? Strategies for effective “set in order” include painting floors, outlining work areas and locations, shadow boards, and modular shelving and cabinets for needed items such as trash cans, brooms, mops, and buckets.

3. Shine

The focus here is on cleaning the work area. After the first two steps eliminate clutter and locate the necessary items, the shine step thoroughly cleans the work area. One of the main benefits of the shine step is that workers develop a sense of pride and ownership in a clean and organized work area. Another benefit is that workers can more quickly see issues such as leaks, contamination, vibration, fatigue, breakage, and misalignment.

4. Standardise

Here, one concentrates on standardizing best practice in each work area. Employees are often a valuable source of information for the development of these standards. Good examples of standardised industries include the military, pharmaceuticals and the banking sector.

5. Sustain

This is by far the most difficult “S” to implement and achieve. Many organisations find themselves with a dirty, cluttered shop only a few months after their attempt to implement 5S. The tendency is to return to the status quo and the comfort zone of the old way of doing things. Sustain focuses on defining a new status quo and new standard for workplace organization.

Some lean practitioners add a sixth “S” for safety. They use this “S” to establish safety procedures in and around the process.

In conclusion, it should be noted that Lean Manufacturing principles can be applied beyond the manufacturing sector to also include services. A popular misconception is that lean is suited only for manufacturing. Not true. Lean applies in every business and every process. It is not a tactic or a cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization. Businesses in all industries and services, including healthcare and governments, are using lean principles as the way they think and do.

By Brian Ahabwe Kakuru

Brian Ahabwe KakuruBrian is the Managing Director at BLEGSCOPE®, and has 10+ years of management consultancy experience notably in the finance & banking industry, MSMEs, FMCG companies and in the service industry. You can follow him on twitter >> @BrianAhabweK


BLEGSCOPE is the brand name representing all BLEGSCOPE business and other initiatives that operate under BLEGSCOPE Capital Ltd (BCL).

BCL is an investment holding company based in Uganda that was set up to provide a valuable and unparalleled platform for like-minded entrepreneurs to exploit the numerous business and investment opportunities in the Great Lakes region.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.