Top 8 Lean Manufacturing Tools [Part 2]

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Last week we examined four of the top eight most valuable tools for lean manufacturing and design. While not an exhaustive list of the entire tool belt available for implementation of lean methodology, these four steps, along with the four that follow, make up what we believe to be the essential instruments every company m ust implement to reduce waste, while saving time and money in the most effecient ways possible. 

Lean organizations understand what their customers are looking for and how to get those products to those customers economically and, most importantly, quickly. By implementing methodologies that require less input, less human capital, and less time to conduct and manage, organizations are able to produce wide varieties of high-quality goods and low-cost services. By focusing your perspective and mindest on lean procedures, the Purpose, Process, and People of your organization can reach new heights of effeciency and throughput. 

Waste Reduction -- Identifying Holes in the Process

Manufacturing operations must scour their processes to identify areas that produce waste. These areas can be obvious, such as 50,000 square feet of leased space to store packaging materials, or much less obvious, such as improper filtration equipment that increases the cost and treatment of fresh water and wastewater.

The challenge of waste reduction is identifying and taking action on all waste areas. To make this happen, manufacturers must make waste reduction a high priority and create awareness company-wide. This can be accomplished by taking the following steps:

  • Conduct regular, systematic waste reduction audits to identify all potential areas of waste reduction.
  • Document audit results in detail. Set priorities for addressing each area of waste and quantify projected savings as accurately as possible.
  • Assign responsibility for correcting problem areas, giving personnel authority and a clear chain of command to implement necessary changes.
  • Involve personnel from all departments in this process, to ensure that correcting one problem doesn’t create new ones.

Check out our Definitive Guide to Waste Reduction now to learn 10 more essential steps! 

Poka Yoke -- "Mistake Proofing"

Poka Yoke, or “mistake proofing,” refers to a mechanism within a design or manufacturing process that helps an equipment operator avoid mistakes. Of course, human error is unavoidable and occurs within any process from time to time. However, poka yoke seeks to mitigate, correct, and prevent errors by drawing attention to inefficient or dangerous processes and methodologies from design to manufacture.

Essentially, poka yoke strives to redesign processes by identifying potential sources of error, identifying the possible mistakes that could be made, and managing those mistakes to generate minimal risk of error from start to finish. For example, if a worker performs a job in five steps, it is increasingly possible that the worker would perform a costly, possibly life-threatening, mistake. Condense that same job into two simpler steps, and the risk of error drops exponentially. Essentially, make processes as easy to understand and undertake as possible, and erros and accidents become the exception, not the rule. 

In theory, poka yoke informs lean design, a process that, from inception, takes into account potential sources of error and seeks to immediately mitigate such adverse circumstances without catastrophic error.

ABC Inventory Management 

Materials management is essential to developing and nurturing a healthy supply chain. Aiding in developing an “unbroken chain of components for production of manufactured goods,” ABC inventory management acts as a barometer measuring the value of items within a supply chain, thus evaluating both their perceived and intrinsic impact on total inventory value. 

  • A-items provide the greatest consumption value annually
  • B-items provide average value consumption annually
  • And C-items provide the least value consumption annually.

Credit: WikipediaSo, for example, ABC inventory management allows for streamlined data transfer by quickly and uniformly categorizing parts. An A-part for instance, would be a car engine or air conditioner, as those particular components are more difficult and time consuming to construct and manufacture, thus creating greater inherent value. A Z-part, for instance, may be something such as a nut or bolt fastening an engine belt tensioner to the engine because, in theory, those parts are economically easier to manufacture and consume.

Inventory controls vary from class to class, with A-items having the strictest inventory control, providing companies the advantage of strategically keeping costs down and supply chains optimized. Moreover, this type of inventory management system allows companies to reduce waste through best understanding data points from stock levels to reorder frequencies.

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)

Keeping quality management systems operating at optimal levels is a goal within every company. Keeping employees happy and focused, while also enhancing production quality and volume create a cyclical system of quality company-wide. Total Productive Maintenance is central to this achievemtn of such a goal.

Everyone within an organization has shared responsibility to maintain each manufacturing process and machine, from laborer to CEO. In theory, machines and processes run optimally at all times. But in reality, attaining such a utopian ideal is difficult at best. Thus, while perfection in any system is never 100 percent achievable, the eight pillars of TPMcare able keep a workforce proactive and laser-focused on nurturing a superior ecosystem of quality:


  • Autonomous maintenance
  • Planned maintenance
  • Quality maintenance
  • Focused improvement
  • Early equipment management
  • Training and education
  • Safety health environment
  • TPM in administration

TPM is a top-down approach, one that must be implemented by managers through a thorough process of planning and formulation. This methodology insures safety throughout maintenance processes, while maintaining effeciency from the most minute of details to those of paramount importance. By addressing the cause(s) of mis-optimized strategies and misused equipment, organizations are able, through Total Productive Maintenance, to more quickly remedy complications and better establish ownership among departments, equipment operators, and management. 

Remember: Mastering lean manufacturing, and especially these essential tools, will have you on the fast and proven track to reducing waste within your organization in no time. Implementing these strategies from top to bottom save you money and get your products to market faster.

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