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Lean manufacturing is the practice of severely limiting wasted resources in manufacturing and in other fields by assuming that anything that does not directly lead to value for the end user of a product or service is wasteful. When planning a program of lean manufacturing implementation, it is highly important to try to look at expenses from the perspective of the customer. If an expense contributes nothing of value to the end customer, it should be made a target for lean manufacturing implementation and should either be removed or optimized. Areas that should be examined for lean manufacturing implementation include the costs of transportation and inventory management, overproduction, organization, and any time spent waiting — problems in all of these areas can lead to waste, which contributes nothing to the value of the product used by the end customer.
One of the most important prerequisites for lean manufacturing implementation is commitment. If the decision-makers and those in charge of manufacturing fail to cohesively implement lean manufacturing practices, it is likely that the entire drive for lean manufacturing implementation will fail. In many cases, introducing lean manufacturing practices may drastically alter the previous practices and traditions of the company, and may even result in some jobs being cut. The change can be good, but the transition is unlikely to be painless, so commitment is necessary.
A commonly used starting place for lean manufacturing implementation is the "5S" program, which focuses on sorting; straightening, or setting in order; sweeping; standardizing; and sustaining the discipline. Sorting involves identifying and eliminating all unnecessary resources and ensuring that all necessary resources are easy to locate and use. Straightening means ensuring that everything is placed in the workplace based on who needs it and where they need it, so no one needs to waste time and effort locating resources, and sweeping refers to policies that ensure general workplace cleanliness and order. Standardizing means finding and universally implementing the most efficient way to complete any given task, and sustaining the discipline means ensuring that everyone follows the new policies and does not return to the old, less-efficient business practices.
Many other programs for lean manufacturing implementation exist, but all tend to focus on the same general ideas: cut out what is unnecessary and streamline every process. Such programs may serve as a good starting point for lean manufacturing implementation, but it is important to remember that every business is different and what works for one may not work for another. Following a program such as "5S" may eliminate a great deal of waste and provide a good start, but for the best implementation of lean manufacturing processes, it is still necessary to look for more opportunities for improvement.
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