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Lean manufacturing is a powerful manufacturing concept that helps businesses maximize their productivity and eliminate waste, ultimately saving time and money while delivering better results for their customers.

As businesses identify value, map the value stream and take steps to eliminate waste and create flow, implement pull-based production, and seek continuous improvement, they can build a culture of success that stems from their manufacturing processes.

It should be no surprise that many household brands implement lean manufacturing as part of their processes. Here’s a closer look at some of the major brands that dominate their industries thanks in part to lean manufacturing.

  1. Toyota

You can’t talk about lean manufacturing without talking about Toyota — in large part because the Japanese automaker is often viewed as the originator of lean manufacturing. The Toyota Production System is the company’s production control system that has been fine-tuned over decades to eliminate waste.

Toyota’s system is derived from the Japanese concept of “jidoka,” which the company refers to as “automation with a human touch” and just-in-time manufacturing — “making only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed.”

This directly influences how Toyota builds its vehicles, with production instructions issued after a vehicle order is received, using an assembly line that is stocked with all necessary parts to immediately begin building any kind of vehicle a customer might order.

  1. Nike

During the last decade, Nike began implementing lean manufacturing in an effort to streamline its processes and limit its impact on the environment. As reported by Manufacturing Digital Magazine, this involved Nike reducing the number of factories it used in its supply chain from 910 to 785 — a roughly 15% decrease.

In addition, Nike began requiring that its source factories commit to lean principles, with a focus on areas such as waste reduction (with an added emphasis on using water efficiently), looking for new ways to make products, and implementing practices like automated cutting to modernize and streamline manufacturing.

As part of these efforts, Nike developed a Supply Chain Sustainability Index, with the goal of setting strict minimum sustainability requirements to drive even greater improvement in these areas. Reducing the environmental impact of its manufacturing processes is an important part of Nike’s corporate responsibility, but it also makes the company more appealing to increasingly eco-conscious consumers.

  1. Intel

Intel underwent a dramatic cultural shift in the 2000s to implement lean manufacturing. At the time, Intel was ranked as the worst semiconductor company for responding to supply requests, typically needing seven to nine days to respond. The company had four different departments involved in change order requests, and it had built up excess inventory because of its lengthy production cycles and issues with its customers.

Implementing lean manufacturing principles quickly helped the company reduce process waste and time spent on cut wafer fabrication, which also reduced work in process. These improvements helped Intel move away from building products ahead of time, and instead implement practices where products were customized at the latest possible stage of production to increase efficiency.

Manufacturing cycle times decreased an incredible 62% from 2006 to 2009. The company has used continuous improvement to speed up the time it takes to bring new computer chips to market, helping it remain a worldwide leader in this industry.

  1. Amazon

The e-commerce giant is also a notable proponent of using lean processes. As Marc Onetto, former head of global operations at Amazon explained in an article for McKinsey, this lean, customer-centric mindset was a part of Amazon from day one, even influencing things like which transportation methods were used to complete a delivery.

Onetto describes an example of eliminating waste where he found that product scanners used by Amazon often experienced poor performance when their batteries reached a low charge level. As Onetto recalls:

“We looked for the root cause of the scanner issue. How many scans could be completed during the life of the scanner battery? Did we have a process to check and reload the scanner batteries? Frontline managers didn’t have any of that information, so there were several hours of low productivity at the end of every scanner’s battery charge. That root-cause analysis helped us put a whole process in place to load and monitor our scanners. Now workers will never miss productivity targets because their scanner batteries are low.”

  1. John Deere

John Deere, famous for its tractors, is another noteworthy proponent of lean manufacturing. The company has long used the Deere Production System, a low-production system in which machines are only made to order to reduce excess inventory and overproduction, while also ensuring the manufacture of high-quality equipment.

As part of its processes, John Deere’s manufacturing floor systems closely track quality to detect potential issues early on. Daily product monitoring metrics allow for rapid intervention to ensure that finished products live up to the brand’s reputation and customer expectations.

John Deere’s commitment to lean principles extends beyond manufacturing and logistics, with the supply chain becoming a major point of emphasis for the company and its global suppliers over the last several years. This helps reduce scrap and ensure consistent quality with suppliers, regardless of where products are getting sourced from.

As these examples illustrate, lean manufacturing can have a powerful effect in a wide range of industries. By making use of lean principles in your own production process and other aspects of your operations, you can put yourself on track for sustainable growth that serves your business and its customers better in the long run.

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