A career in lean manufacturing

Lean principles have been critical in increasing efficiency across organizations via cost reduction, reducing wastage, and relying on customers’ demands to drive the processes. Although the lean principles started in the manufacturing industry in the 1950s, today they are applicable in different kinds of enterprises and have varied applications.

Despite its roots in the manufacturing industry, lean can work in any organization with a process-driven environment. The primary objective of lean is to detect and modify or remove any part of the process if it is not value-adding. In doing so, lean can improve the response speed to customer demands and ensure better-quality production at lower costs.

Who needs lean manufacturing? 

Any company that is in need of lean manufacturing is quite easy to identify. It displays operational deficiencies in any of the following:

  • Excess buffer stock inventory
  • Poor flow of information
  • Production goals and schedules are rarely fulfilled
  • Excess overhead costs
  • Unnecessarily long cycle times
  • Complex operating procedures
  • Excess of some inventory, while being short on others
  • Shipping containers are empty or products are damaged during shipping
  • Long lead times
  • Customer service is poor, and clients are unhappy
  • Errors in the documentation for inventory, product specification or shipping

These are some of the usual symptoms of companies that are in dire need of lean manufacturing strategies.

Implementing lean processes

Any implementation of lean manufacturing must be supported by the top management as it may require a change in multiple processes. Before execution of a change at a broad scale, it is best to showcase a test implementation on one product.

To implement lean manufacturing, the company will require an individual who will spearhead the lean program. This individual will also engage in planning and educating employees about the changes and new systems. In addition, the person will have to design the new processes, set quantifiable goals, and set up a time scale for implementation of the lean system in the test case. While working out the test case, it is also important to take into account the customer requirements as they can change from time to time.

Once the test case is successfully demonstrated, the company can implement the same practice for all the products.

After the implementation of the lean manufacturing process, its success can only be measured by well-rounded metrics. If insufficient metrics are used, some of the information may be lost. For example, focusing only on production labor efficiency can lead to failure in identifying other performance issues and client satisfaction.

If the implementation is successful, employees will also be able to identify the changes and benefit from working in a lean facility. In a lean organization, workflow processes will be smoother with no information delay, reorganization and removal of unnecessary steps, balancing of schedules, and no time wastage, resulting in increased productivity.

Optimizing lean manufacturing processes will also have an impact on the supply chain. With a lean supply chain, the company will have a lower dependency on forecasting, better chances of accommodating customers’ varying purchase orders, improved relationships with suppliers, and an overall lower wastage.

Although the implementation of lean manufacturing will require capital expenditure, most of the changes can be implemented with existing machines and tools. Investing in going lean works best if the company is oriented to increase revenues, market share, competition and profits. As customer satisfaction is what makes money in a company, going lean will certainly have a financial impact.

What are the benefits of lean manufacturing? 

In simple words, lean manufacturing can improve productivity and reduce any wastage. Quality reliance and quick delivery of goods from manufacturers is the new normal when it comes to customers’ expectations. Manufacturers can either meet the requirements by shortening their cycle time or lose the business. Customers can simply change their supplier if they find one that can meet their expectations. To maintain the competitive edge, maintain optimal operations and satisfy customer expectations, manufacturers incorporate the lean systems operation strategy.

Ultimately, the advantages of lean manufacturing depend on the business goals and expectations. Some of the common benefits of lean manufacturing are:

Saves time: One of the main components of lean manufacturing is improving efficiency and reducing cycle time. Any company that implements it can save time in workplace processes, resulting in better output.

Saves money: Reducing the wastage of resources can help companies save money. For example, if the number of defective parts produced decreases, it can reduce the cost of materials required.

Employee motivation: Continuous improvement, adaptability and learning are some of the most important factors of lean manufacturing. Employees can feel motivated if they can contribute to the company by learning from mistakes and solving them using critical thinking.

Environment protection: Minimizing waste will also help in protecting the environment in the long run. For example, less shipping of supplies will be required if the processes are lean, thereby lessening the impact on the environment by saving gas and reducing pollution.

To implement lean strategies successfully, firms will need competent staff and employees familiar with lean manufacturing. A lean manufacturing master’s can help in starting the lean journey in your company or help accelerate your growth in the industry.

Examples of organizations employing lean manufacturing

Toyota was the first company to adopt the principles of lean manufacturing. The company named it the Toyota Production System. This system eliminated waste and allowed the company to master the ability to lower production or discontinue products that were not meeting customer requirements. In addition, several tasks in Toyota are automated, which reduces the human effort and chances of faults. The ‘Just-in-Time’ concept ensures that the process only manufactures what is required for the next step in a continuous flow. This way, there are no extras and productivity is improved.

Nike is another famous company that has adopted lean manufacturing practices. The updating of its processes led to less wastage, higher customer value, and some interesting unforeseen benefits. Lean manufacturing in Nike resulted in reduced poor labor practices in overseas plants by 15%. The lean system, as designed, focused on valuing the worker more than the earlier business practices, as most of its manufacturing plants were overseas. Improving employee value resulted in a higher value to the company as a whole.

Harley-Davidson also adopted lean manufacturing principles to streamline its operations and empower its employees. This led to a continuous improvement in its operations, and the company named its strategy the Continuous Improvement System. This strategy is based on the nine lean tools, which include the usual 5S, total productive maintenance and standard work. The company also focused on improving its employees’ skills as well as training them in the requirements for a lean system. It believes in empowering employees so that they can continuously improve their work and add more value for the customers.

A career in lean manufacturing

A lean manufacturing engineer has to manage and deploy optimal manufacturing practices that will meet particular standards set by the company. The engineer can develop and implement quality control processes so that the desired goal is fulfilled. This individual plays an important role in the manufacturing process by identifying any gaps, inefficiencies and failures. Correcting these issues in the existing process will enhance productivity and quality standards.

For example, in a microwave manufacturing company, a lean manufacturing engineer will ensure that appropriate materials are being used, make sure that production lines are running seamlessly, manage manufacturing costs, see that employees are following safety protocols, and make certain that clients are happy with the completed product.

A lean manufacturing engineer makes sure that the company is following the best processes in manufacturing, supports continuous improvements in processes, minimizes waste and reduces production costs. The engineer also works with employees and upper management to increase overall productivity and quality. These individuals also play a role in implementing manufacturing goals, setting up objectives in the business, and project management to reduce costs.

A career in lean manufacturing is quite rewarding as companies are constantly looking for ways to improve their business practices when it comes to manufacturing processes. Although you can start working after a bachelor’s in mechanical or industrial engineering, a master’s in lean manufacturing can accelerate your career path. You may also find that experience in other jobs can help you become a lean manufacturing engineer.

What is the role of a lean manufacturing engineer?

In a typical lean manufacturing engineering role, there are some common responsibilities:

  • Manage the development of manufacturing processes.
  • Optimize processes to improve quality, efficiency and repeatability.
  • Identify points of cost reduction in manufacturing.
  • Track and implement cost reduction in processes.
  • Manage employee training and development on lean tenets.
  • Develop a lean work methodology.
  • Lead and deploy the best manufacturing processes without compromising on quality.
  • Support continuous improvement in processes by reducing tooling costs, material flow and cycle times.
  • Identify the root causes for any inefficiencies and failures and then make recommendations to adapt and change the methodologies.
  • Create documentation for the improved processes, which ensures that the products that are manufactured meet the quality standards.

Specialized skills required as a lean manufacturing engineer

As a lean manufacturing engineer, companies look for a certain specific skill set from individuals. Some of these skills include Lean Principles, Kaizen, Six Sigma, Kanban, PDCA, Poke-Yoke, and many more.

Learning these skills will certainly give you an advantage over your peers when it comes to finding jobs in the field of lean manufacturing.

A lean manufacturing engineer can progress to roles such as manufacturing engineering manager, vice president of engineering, senior manufacturing manager, and more over the years. Even as a new employee, the average salary of a lean manufacturing engineer is $38 per hour or $80,000 a year in the US. A career in lean manufacturing is certainly lucrative, full of exciting responsibilities and opportunities to learn, and huge potential for growth.

For individuals who showcase their skills and abilities to improve the processes, thereby improving the efficiency and productivity of the systems, there are ample opportunities. There is a great scope for growing within an organization or even finding better roles in other companies.

Go lean!

Lean manufacturing is highly valued across the world. In today’s competitive environment, every company is looking for lean operations. A lean manufacturing engineer will help the company eliminate wastefulness and focus on activities that honor customers and increase the value of products manufactured.

A lean system promotes a business culture that is focused on mutual problem-solving. It encourages all the employees to contribute to operations to improve quality. Improving communications between the company and its suppliers will create a harmonious way of conducting business. It is quite an attractive quality for employees as well as customers. Better communication channels can also help in increasing sustainability, higher production and improved customer service, which will help in giving a competitive advantage to the company.

So, to become a professional in this arena of lean manufacturing, it is essential to understand and fulfill the lean manufacturing engineer’s responsibilities effectively and efficiently.

The best part of a career in lean manufacturing is that no two organizations are the same. Each and every company will have a different lean requirement, thereby allowing the engineers to work on every problem in a different way. There will always be a scope for learning something new as no one standard lean manufacturing process can be implemented in all processes or organizations. As a top professional in the lean manufacturing industry, you will be able to help businesses become lean and sustainable in the long run.