Reading Notes:All About Lean Manufacturing

  • pp. 21-33 of “Lean Manufacturing and the Environment” by Ross & Associates

In its most basic form, lean manufacturing is the systematic elimination of waste from all aspects of an organization’s operations, where waste is viewed as any use or loss of resources that does not lead directly to creating the product or service a customer wants when they want it. In many industrial processes, such non-value added activity can comprise more than 90 percent of a factory’s total activity.

The EPA did a study of lean manufacturing Beoing and found that, surprise, it’s green. The benefits of lean manufacturing are harder to realize when environmentally nasty stuff is involved, and the EPA wants policy that pushes companies towards making it work.

Who Is Implementing Lean?

Between 30 and 40 percent of all U.S. manufacturers claim to have begun implementing lean methods, with approximately five percent aggressively implementing multiple advanced manufacturing tools modeled on the Toyota Production System. Mostly in manufacturing in service sectors, not heavy industries. Intensifying competitiveness and supply chain pressures are leading increasing numbers of small and medium-sized companies to implement lean systems.

  • All started with Toyota, then the big 3 automakers caught on, then everyone else.
  • Northwest Lean Manufacturing Network (NWLEAN) has 5,100 members.

No-Waste Culture

To make sustained environmental improvement progress that moves beyond the “low-hanging fruit,” an organization must create a continual improvement-focused waste elimination culture.

  • Standard work establishes clear procedures
  • Kaizen events involve employees from the shop floor in rapid process improvement events to identify and eliminate waste
  • 3P taps worker creativity to develop innovative process and product designs 
  • Total productive maintenance empowers workers to maintain and improve operations in their work areas

Essentially- a clear structure of standard work, clear data about environmental metrics, a clear and persistant vision of reduced waste and lots and lots of freedom to innovate around that.

How does this really impact the environment

  • The Boeing Company hasconsistently realized resource productivity improvements ranging from 30 to 70 percent when lean production programs are implemented.
  • Goodrich Aerostructures started delivering “kits” with exactly the right amount of chemicals needed for a task. This eliminated overproduction of hazardous chemicals, eliminate four 5,000 gallon tanks containing various nasties. 
  • Apollo Hardwoods built a special machine that converts logs to veneered cabinets with minimal waste. Before they used (and largely wasted 12 foot boards.) 
  • Saturn started shipping car parts in reusable containers, cleaned up its injection  molding and reduced the need to fix painting mistakes. Overall they reduced hazardous waste generation from 9.0 pounds per car in 1992 to 3.2 pounds per car in 1996.


  • Research at New York University’s Stern School of Business, analyzed 17,499 facilities from ’91 to ’96 and found that those with lean manufacturing were significantly cleaner, both in terms of total waste emitted and in terms of toxics.
  • MIT found that companies with lean manufacturing did more pollution prevention and (therefore) less pollution control.  Lean plants reported that 53 percent of their air emission reductions over a year were achieved through pollution prevention, compared to less than 37 percent for non-lean facilities (which relied more heavily on end-of-pipe pollution control equipment).


How does it work?

  • Fewer Defects means less stuff is thrown away/fewer resources for repair.
  • Less Overproduction means fewer surpluses are thrown away.
  • Less Movement means less energy/emmissions from transport.
  • Smaller inventories mean less space for those inventories (including the energy to light and heat that space.)
  • Less complexity means less processing, less energy, often fewer toxics.

Several of the companies have moved away from traditional project evaluation processes that rely on calculating a project’s return on investment (ROI) and comparing it with a hurdle rate. They indicated that many lean implementation projects focused on particular process steps would not compete effectively on these grounds, since the real benefits arise from the optimization of the overall system’s flow and linkage.

But wait, there’s more

Once companies have implemented green manufacturing, going back again and focusing specifically on environmental issues reveals “blind spots” around toxicity and product disposal issues.

Lean manufacturers owe it to themselves to incorporate environmental experts, who know a lot about eliminating waste. Not stated explicitely in the reading, but setting an environmental goal also makes the project a far more engaging vision for employees. 

Last but not least, environmental regulation can actually make this worse. Often there is no precendent for the kinds of manufacturing going on, and the slow pace of regulation may hamper the “constant improvement” feeling of lean manufacturing. The EPA wants regulators to get wise.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s