Waste has long been accepted as an inevitable byproduct of manufacturing and work processes, but new methodologies are emphasizing the incredible benefits of reducing waste.  Lean manufacturing concepts focus on reducing waste in all its forms, and helping businesses and their employees understand the true benefits of a Lean Manufacturing approach.

To understand the benefits of Lean Manufacturing, we need first to understand the waste that it seeks to eliminate.  Lean principles highlight 7 key types of waste common in manufacturing environments.  Here are the seven wastes, some common causes, and steps companies can take to reduce them.

Transportation: Inefficiencies in moving materials from one location to another.  Not only does this increase the amount of time it takes to process an item, it can introduce new opportunities for waste to occur – every item that must be carried can be dropped, for instance.  Organizing workspaces efficiently can reduce the need for transportation and streamline productivity.

Inventory: For every item that is stored, space must be allocated and time must be expended. When excessive and unnecessary inventory is stored, that means unnecessary usage of space and time. Taking accurate inventory and implementing procedures that make it easier to identify, find and account for inventory can ensure that everything that is available is used, and that only what is needed is stored.

Waiting: In many production environments, different parts of the process move at different speeds.  If one process relies on another in order to continue, it can introduce costly wait times where a process may end up entirely idle.  Waiting can be the result of other inefficiencies, so tackling the problem of waste as a whole can help minimize waiting.  Additionally, reviewing processes and reducing dependencies can help ensure that no  part of the process is idle, even if issues arise in other areas.

Motion:  An efficient workplace is one where employees are able to access the materials they need with a minimum of motion.  Workplaces where employees must walk back and forth between different workstations are typically inefficient, and add costly time to the production process.  Disorganized environments can lead to wasted motion as employees spend time and energy looking for misplaced items or backtracking for forgotten materials.  Clean, organized workspaces and ergonomic layouts help reduce waste through motion.

Overprocessing:  Many companies that evaluate their work processes discover that many activities are being done simply because they have always been done, and without any clear understanding of whether they serve any real purpose.  Trimming these unnecessary steps from a process can lead to immediately visible results.

Overproduction: Many facilities have set procedures that are meant to increase efficiency, but that can actually result in waste.  Overproduction is a common symptom of this – a facility may spend time producing parts that they already have an abundance of, simply because existing inventory was misplaced or miscategorized, or because production processes don’t account properly for the need (or lack of need) for individual components.

Defects: Perhaps the most obvious example of waste is in defects: mistakes in the manufacturing process that must be corrected or discarded entirely. Many things can contribute to defects – poor handling by employees, unclear procedures, and equipment failures are just a few examples.