The 8 Wastes of Lean Manufacturing and How to Fight Them

The 8 Wastes of Lean Manufacturing and How to Fight Them
Abel Acuna |   | 

One of the primary goals of the Lean manufacturing approach to business is the reduction of any material, effort and cost that does not ultimately add value that the customer is willing to pay for. Lean experts have identified eight distinct types of waste and developed specific tools and techniques to fight them. Whether your organization fully embraces the Lean manufacturing philosophy or not, knowing where to look for waste and what to do when you find it can be useful.

1- Overproduction

Overproduction occurs when something is created before it is needed. Many Lean practitioners consider overproduction the worst type of waste because it is very expensive, lowers quality and contributes to other types of waste, such as inventory and transport.

Kanban is a Lean manufacturing technique that was developed to reduce the waste of overproduction. Kanban is a visual signal that’s used to trigger an action. The word “Kanban” roughly translated means “card you can see” in Japanese.  In a Lean manufacturing environment, a part is only created (or purchased) if there is a Kanban card for it. This adds control to manufacturing or other processes.

Hardware developers who outsource PCB and device manufacturing can avoid overproduction by choosing a partner that does not require large production runs. High volume orders will always have a discount over small runs, but these days the cost difference does not need to be extreme.

2- Transport

Any unnecessary movement of raw materials, works-in-progress or finished products contributes to the waste of transport. Not all transport is waste, of course, but moving items only when strictly necessary is a key goal of Lean organizations.

Value stream mapping is one way to identify the waste of transport. All parts of a process, including the movement of parts and products, are documented and assessed with an eye to value for the customer. Any transportation that can’t be linked to value is targeted for reduction or elimination if possible.

In terms of outsourced device and circuit board manufacturing, transport can be reduced in a couple of ways. One is to choose a partner located in the United States. This will reduce the number of times items need to be moved as well as the distance. Another way to eliminate unnecessary transportation is to choose a turn-key partner with manufacturing, inventory, and fulfillment services all in the same location.

3- Over Processing

Over processing occurs when complex processes are used when a simple one would do. Over processing can also involve adding features to products that customers don’t need. Another example of over processing is using expensive equipment that is not really necessary.

Value stream mapping can be very helpful in identifying instances of over processing.

4- Defects

Defects are a very obvious form of waste. When a product or part can’t be used for its intended purpose the cost of the resources and labor that went into its creation are lost. If defective products make it to the customer, the waste is only compounded in the form of returned items, lost good will, and unnecessary customer service efforts.

A lot goes into reducing defects. One popular approach in device manufacturing is called Poka-Yoke, or Error Proofing.  This is the practice of building error detection and prevention into production processes with zero defects as the goal. This is much more effective and less expensive than trying to find all errors through inspection. The earlier in the product lifecycle a defect is identified, the easier and less costly it generally is to fix it.

5- Motion

The waste of transport is about unnecessary movement of items. The waste of motion, on the other hand, is about unnecessary movements of people. Inadequately stocked and poorly organized workspaces are frequent contributors to the waste of motion.

Lean practitioners have developed a practice known as 5S to combat the waste of motion. 5S is a workplace organization method that involves five stages, each of which happens to begin with the letter S in both Japanese and English. They five phases are: seiri (sort), seiton (set), seiso (shine), seiketsu (standardize), and shitsuke (sustain). The 5S system improves workplace efficiency and reduces the waste of motion.

6- Inventory

One of the biggest advantages of modern point of sale and manufacturing technology is the ability for producers to create products only when doing so is dictated by demand. The waste of inventory is no longer a necessary evil. When it does occur, it is usually a symptom of overproduction or an interrupted process flow.

Integrated order management and inventory tracking systems help to reduce the waste of inventory. When inventory is necessary, Lean leaders look for ways to keep the cost of storing products as low as possible.

7- Waiting

The waste of waiting is idle time that happens when two interdependent processes are out of sync. A process may be stalled waiting for parts, instructions, workers, or repairs.

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) is a holistic approach to maintenance that helps reduce the waste of waiting. It focuses on proactive and preventative maintenance to minimize the downtime of equipment. A strong focus is placed on empowering operators to help maintain the equipment that they use. The approach fosters a shared responsibility and encourages greater personal investment by front line workers.

8- Human Potential

The waste of human potential is a recent addition to the list of Lean wastes. We think it is an important one. It involves the underutilization of talent. Organizations seek to reduce this waste by engaging employees in processes and improvement activities, by providing learning opportunities, and outlining career paths.

Human potential can also be wasted when there are barriers to innovation and invention. Manufacturing service providers that make prototyping and iteration easier help reduce the waste of human potential by giving everyone the opportunity to see their ideas come to life.

There’s no way to eliminate every bit of waste, but keeping it to a minimum can make the difference between profitability and bankruptcy. Luckily, there are some tried and true techniques and tools that can be used to address waste in each of its forms.