5 Key Principles of Lean Manufacturing

The Keys to Lean Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing is a production viewpoint that considers the outlay of resources for any target other than the creation of value for the customer to be wasteful. Essentially, Lean Manufacturing means removing inefficiencies in the production process: unnecessary work, unevenness in production, maintenance issues and so on. By removing or reducing these non-value-adding processes, companies can focus more resources on value-adding process and spend more time on improving operational performance.

Lean Manufacturing Evolved from the Automotive Industry

Cans on Assembly line
Assembly lines are not just for the automotive industry. Food Manufacturers use one-piece flow in a variety of situations.

Lean Manufacturing is mostly understood from the examples Henry Ford applied to the manufacturing sector. He applied Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing for car production that focused on reducing the carrying costs of inventory by eliminating as much inventory as possible.  The modern principles of lean manufacturing are derived from the Toyota Production Systems.

Toyota’s philosophy focuses on eliminating three types of inefficiency: non-value-adding work, overburdening of workers and unevenness in productivity. In other industries, Lean methodology can be applied to identify sources of waste and eliminate them by establishing clear best practices.

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The 5 Principles of Lean Manufacturing

1. Specify value from the customer perspective and by product family

Understanding the customer from their perspective is a key factor in the Lean Manufacturing system is to eliminate anything that does not add value to the customer. Eliminating waste reduces lead times, increases revenue, and increases overall customer satisfaction. Focus on providing your customers with tangible value with a detailed statement about how your product/service will give your customers a competitive advantage.

2. Identify all the steps in the value stream and eliminate any wastes that do not create value

Eliminating waste is key to providing value to your customers. A Value Stream Mapping session with key stakeholders in the business is conducted mapping the manufacturing, sales or admin processes from start to finish and identifying what can be removed, modified or added.

3. Streamlining the value-creating steps to occur in a tight sequence that flow towards the customer or next upstream process

Another main principle of Lean Manufacturing is creating ‘Flow’. The most familiar example of Flow is the automotive assembly line. On an assembly line, products flow through a factory moving through different workstations at a steady rate until they roll off the assembly line completed. Flow isn’t just for the automotive industry.

4. Let customers pull from the next upstream process

Establishing ‘Pull’ will not work unless you have created ‘Flow’ and working to takt time (takt time sets the pace of production to match the rate of customer demand). Pull simply means that you are responding to customer demands as quickly as possible without creating excess inventory. Simple, right. In fact, Lean has established a tool called Kanban to do just that.

5. Repeat for ongoing system improvements (Continuous Improvement)

Finally, once you have established the above 4 points you set your business up to build on upon the changes and improvements you have made. Continuous Improvement now becomes the new normal for your business, building a culture of continuous improvement.


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A welder processing an on-demand order from a customer.

Where Should You Start?

Start with learning how to specify value from the customer perspective – learn about Value Stream Mapping.

What is the Most Common Mistake in Implementing Lean?

Using lean as a magic solution for rapid cost-cutting. Implementing Lean Manufacturing methodologies will change your business, but the results might not be seen right away. Lean manufacturing is about building a foundation for continuous improvement that will have positive effects on your business, people, and culture for years into the future.


Using a Lean philosophy, any company can eliminate waste and improve its bottom line, such as Engineers can reduce that complexity of assembly task; Scientists can reduce wasted time running tests, Accountants can speed up the end of month reports and even management can improve governance and compliance procedures.


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Robert Chittenden

Author: Robert Chittenden

Robert Chittenden is a Senior Lean Consultant at TXM Lean Solutions