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What is Lean Manufacturing?

lean manufacturing process

Lean manufacturing applies the methodologies found in lean philosophy of operations to the manufacturing process, with the aim of reducing waste, cutting lead times, optimizing performance and delivering extra value to the customer.

The History of Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing originated with the Toyota Production System in Japan. 

The process was more widely introduced through the book, The Machine That Changed the World, to the global manufacturing community.

This book was based on an MIT study into the future of automotive manufacturing. It detailed the Toyota Production System’s lean philosophy.

The Toyota Production System approach to lean focused on eliminating three core conceptual wastes, Muri, Muda, and Mura.

  • Muri Muri represents the concept of overburdening. It is designed out of the manufacturing process as part of a lean manufacturing methodology.
  • Muda Muda is the idea of waste. It is the primary target to be eliminated in a lean manufacturing methodology.
  • MuraMura represents the idea of inconsistency in the manufacturing process. It is also designed out as part of a lean manufacturing methodology.

These core concepts were further refined by the often referenced 1996 book, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation

This publication evolved the Toyota Production System’s approach to lean manufacturing. It also laid out the five principles of lean manufacturing that are still widely applied today.

Key Lean Manufacturing Principles

The mentioned book also laid out five core principles for lean manufacturing that are still widely used today, including:

1. Understand what the customer values

Customer-centric thinking is the key to lean production. The customer defines what value means, not manufacturers or designers that create it.

Understanding how much of a product your customers deem valuable is vital for maintaining an efficient and streamlined manufacturing process where creating products with high perceived value will be worth more in return than those which are devalued by consumers because they lack meaning or necessity.

2. Map the value stream

To map the value stream, you need to investigate and record all materials required through an entire lifecycle by following it from beginning to end.

The data collected can then be analyzed for any areas where there may be wasteful practices that could result in decreased costs or improved quality products being produced as well as increased customer satisfaction with their purchase experience when they buy your product!

This principle also ties into the concept of continuous improvement which we covered in this article.

3. Improve process flow

The most efficient and effective manufacturing process is the one that has the least number of functional barriers.

Smoothing out any unnecessary steps in a production process allows companies to reduce time-to-delivery, remove pain points from their processes, and create an uninterrupted stream of products coming off each line.


4. Use ‘pull’ manufacturing

The push mechanic, which creates inventory to match demand forecasting based on prior records, is a popular choice for manufacturing systems. Though these forecasts can be inaccurate leading to wasteful peaks and troughs in production and the occasional overstocking or stock.

Lean manufacturing is a type of production where goods are only manufactured in response to demand. This pull mechanic helps companies anticipate their customer’s needs and provide the best possible service, so they don’t miss out on any opportunities for growth while also optimizing resources by preventing overproduction.


5. Continually strive for perfection

All lean manufacturers should always strive to perfect their systems at all times. This means constantly assessing manufacturing processes for pain points and eliminating them to reduce delays and waste.

Is Lean Manufacturing the Same as Six Sigma?

There are a lot of crossovers in the philosophies behind lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. However, they differ in two key approaches:

  • Lean manufacturing emphasizes that waste most often stems from unnecessary steps, processes, and products that do not add anything that the customer values.
  • Six Sigma emphasizes that the principal reason behind waste is process variation and concentrating on removing process defects is the best way to create an efficient manufacturing process.

These differences mean that the two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive and can be applied in a complementary manner.

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The 8 Types of Wastes of Lean Manufacturing

The Toyota Production System also identified eight types of common manufacturing waste that need to be addressed, including:



The most visible of the manufacturing wastes is defects. These occur when manufacturing processes produce items that do not meet commercial specifications or have clear faults.

Defects can lead to a series of knock-on issues. Such as significant delays, increased costs, a reduction in customer satisfaction, and waiting.



Overproduction occurs when production does not sync up with customer demand.

While having additional stock does make a supply chain more resilient, it also comes with increased costs across the chain. It also comes with the risk of holding stock that is no longer in demand.



Waiting is often the byproduct of other forms of waste, such as defects or transportation and inventory issues. It is generally divided into two types:

Customer waiting is caused by a lack of usable inventory or transportation delays and reduces customer satisfaction. 

Staff waiting happens when manufacturing processes are brought to a halt because of a lack of raw materials, skilled workers, or other products, such as packaging.

Non-utilized talent

Not making use of the full range of talents available in your workforce is a kind of waste.

Non-utilized talent is normally the root cause of other wastage. This includes bad teamwork, poor training, poor communication, and restrictive or unnecessary administration.


The current issues around sea freight and the cost of containers has brought home the issues of an overreliance on a single overseas manufacturing or supply region.

The lean manufacturing process put in place by the Toyota Production System required critical suppliers to be sourced from the local area around the manufacturing plants. 


Inventory is normally a result of inaccurate forecasting or overproduction. Excess inventory sitting in warehouses costing money to store and not selling is a common form of manufacturing waste.



Where transport involves moving finished products to the customer, motion is the movement of staff or equipment.

Sometimes, such movement is unavoidable. However, it is often conducted as a result of poor workspace design or the lack of critical materials adjacent to a manufacturing area. 

Extra Processing

Extra processing is defined as any process that adds work without adding value. Any additional work comes with a related cost and makes the entire manufacturing process less time-efficient. 

The Advantages of Lean Manufacturing

There are a range of material benefits to implementing lean manufacturing, including:


  • Increased product quality – By eliminating defects, reducing transportation times, and making full use of skilled employees rather than bogging them down in extra processing, lean manufacturing improves product quality.

  • Reduced lead times – The more a manufacturing process is streamlined and made more efficient, the quicker it can react to fluctuations in supply and demand, resulting in fewer delays and shorter lead times.

  • Environmental sustainability – Many companies have already come round to the financial and social license to operate benefits of sustainability. Lean manufacturing’s emphasis on waste reduction extends to reducing all forms of waste, including those with a negative impact on the environment.


  • Greater employee satisfaction – Lean manufacturing emphasizes the full utilization of staff talent and a reduction in motion, both of which are common causes of staff dissatisfaction.

    Given the clear link between increased employee satisfaction and increased productivity, lean manufacturing can translate better morale into greater efficiencies. 


  • Increased profit – A reduction in waste and an increase in productivity increase the overall profitability of any manufacturer.

How to Implement Lean in Manufacturing

The authors of Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation identified that the key reason that some lean manufacturing businesses fail is that they simply copy the principles. 

As opposed to understanding the underlying concepts and adapting them to their own specific circumstances.

However, there are some general approaches to implementing lean manufacturing that companies can use to get the ball rolling.


Simplify the system 

One of the main philosophies of lean manufacturing is that additional processes that add no value are a form of waste and waste should be eliminated at every step.

In order to implement lean manufacturing, organizations need to break their manufacturing process down into its simplest components and eliminate any unnecessary steps.

Simple manufacturing systems are also easier to consistently monitor and improve.

Continuously seek opportunities to improve

All sections of the manufacturing process and their staff should be encouraged and empowered to constantly be looking to improve their designs and procedures.


Implement any positive changes

No changes are considered too small if they have a positive impact and should be as specific to your organization as possible. Granular metrics should be used to monitor and analyze processes for potential improvement opportunities.


Obtain staff buy-in

Staff buy-in is critical to the implementation of lean manufacturing. All staff should be made aware of the efficiency and profitability benefits of lean manufacturing. They need to know the potential reduction of pain points in their day-to-day work.

Effective staff buy-in means all levels of the organization are committed to identifying potential improvements and reducing waste.

This hugely increases the number of eyes of the problem and the number of improvement ideas generated.

Lean Manufacturing Tools

Along with the principles of lean manufacturing, there are also a number of tools, many of them created by the Toyota Production System, that can help to implement the practical application of lean manufacturing, including:



A Japanese term meaning change for the better, Kaizen emphasizes the need for continuous improvement at all levels of an organization. Teams are encouraged to come together and take responsibility for improving their areas of responsibility.

As part of Kaizen, all ideas have value, and the more employees who can be involved in the process of seeking constant improvement, the better.

The foundation of Kaizen is open and honest communication and mutual respect for all levels of staff.


The 5S system

An organizational system created by the Toyota Production System, the term 5S comes from the fact that it references five Japanese words, seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke.



Means organization and emphasizes removing clutter and creating an orderly work environment.



Means tidiness and emphasizes finding the correct place for everything in the workplace



Means clean and, unsurprisingly, emphasizes keeping the workplace clean. 



Means standardization and, much like the Six Sigma philosophy, emphasizes the standardization of processes to create efficiencies.



Means to sustain and emphasizes the continuous use and reinforcement of the other four concepts. 


The 5s system is a ground-floor level organizational structure that adds the benefits of greater organization, better safety, and improved efficiency.


The concept of Kanban comes from the Japanese word for billboard and references the use of visual signage to control production.

Most commonly found in the form of Kanban cards, Kanban is often split into three columns representing tasks that need to be done, tasks that are being done, and tasks that have been done.

Workers then move cards that show who is doing a task through the three columns, so everyone is aware of who is completing what task and at which point in the process the task is at. 



Based on the Japanese word for leveling, Heijunka matches production to Takt time.

Takt time is defined as the time it takes for a product to meet a customer’s demands and allows organizations to match their production timetable to customer demand and maintain a more balanced use of resources and labor.


Just in Time (JIT)

Just in time manufacturing produces goods in direct response to customer demand and does not use stockpiling. Because of the lack of need for warehousing, costs and lead times are reduced and productivity is increased. 



Translated from Japanese as mistake-proofing, Poka-Yoke is an error-correcting procedure that attempts to protect manufacturing processes from the potential for human error.

There are three principal types of Poka-Yoke, including:


Contact method

This checks the physical makeup and dimension of a product against the design to check for defects.


Constant number method

This identifies manufacturing processes that are reliant on a specific number of actions, such as welds, and sends out an alert if those movements are not made.


Motion-step method

This identifies manufacturing processes that are reliant on a specific number of steps, like a bottling track, and sends out an alert if any of the steps are missed, such as the bottle capping step.

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How Does Jiga Help Companies Achieve Lean Manufacturing?

Jiga helps companies achieve lean manufacturing by providing an easy-to-use single point platform that allows companies to ascribe to the key concepts of lean manufacturing, such as:


  • Kaizen – With a range of different manufacturers and manufacturing options available through the Jiga Marketplace, companies can consistently look to refine both their products and manufacturing partners in the pursuit of constant change for the better.
  • JIT production – By giving companies access to a huge range of flexible additive manufacturers, Jiga allows organizations to identify local manufacturers who can quickly and effectively produce products in response to customer demand. 

  • Poka-Yoke – Through the Jiga marketplace, you can contact manufacturers and get detailed professional feedback without having to place an order.

    Additionally, all orders through our automated system are still error-checked by a person, significantly reducing the chances of human error delaying your order.

  • Reduced processes – Rather than contacting separate manufacturers for quotes, then signing multiple contracts, then engaging a logistics company to transport the end product, Jiga allows you to simplify your process.

    You only ever have one contract, with us, and we’ll take care of transporting your order to you. However, you’ll still be able to talk directly to the suppliers and exchange professional feedback.

Your payment will be held in an escrow account, as part of our buyer protection, until your order arrives. Therefore, you’ll only pay for what you receive.

Additionally, we provide constant transparent feedback on all of our manufacturers. Consequently, you’ll be able to see reviews from other customers and order from our vetted suppliers with complete peace of mind.

This streamlining and simplification of the procurement process helps you save both money and time.

Contact Jiga today and see it in action to find out more about how Jiga can be the key to your business implementing effective lean manufacturing. 

Adar Hay
Adar Hay
Co-Founder and CEO of Jiga. Adar is a tech industry revenue leader with vast experience in product and marketing management. He's driving Jiga's mission to make parts sourcing frictionless.

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