Lean Engineering

free essayThe lean engineering approaches have been applied in the modern industry where the processes are used to ensure the efficiency without wastages in the production process (BAE Systems 2012, p. 2). The term lean engineering is used for the improvements that are required in the engineering process. Today, lean describes a process that requires minimum effort and limited investment, produces fewer defects, uses minimum supplies with fewer inventories, and ensures that activities are performed within the minimum time. Similarly, it describes a process that leads to a good record of the items produced per injuries resulting from the entire process of production. In essence, lean is the best practice in production engineering that ensures all required areas are considered, and the losses are kept to a minimum. As defined by Womack & Jones (1996, p. 17), lean engineering is a process that focuses on the removal of all unimportant wastes in the process of production through highlighting the principles and practices that link the production theories and customer needs.

The term lean came into use in the 1990s and meant several approaches that companies were using in manufacturing. The emphasis was put on the systemic production of exactly what the customers demanded at the lowest cost possible with minimum wastes (Banuelos 2012, p. 88). Most ideas that formed the lean production approaches were introduced after the Second World War by the Toyota Company of Japan. The lean concept is very complex in application but can facilitate effective production with minimum wastes (Chapados & Perlinska 2002, p. 16). In fact, the report studies the use of the lean approaches in the modern engineering process that ensures efficiency, best practices, and fewer expenses on the production process (Bicheno & Holweg 2009, p.19).

The concept is based on the provision of products in the specifications ordered by the customer. It also involves people working in the production, in the entire process of developing a leaner system. The pioneers of the concept recognized that the workers’ engagement was to make them feel appreciated and also an integral part of the entire production process (Larmann & Vodde, 2009, p. 57). Whereas lean engineering was mostly applied during the post Second World War period in Japan, much of the ideas had originated much earlier. For instance, it is indicated that King Henry III of France used the concept of lean production in the shipbuilding for the Venetian Fleet. Benjamin Frank of the U.S. also employed the lean concept in the interchangeable parts production (Sayer & Williams, 2007, p.19).

Aim of the Report

The report purposes to introduce the principles and concepts of lean production as applied in the engineering process. The report aims at identifying different elements of lean production and how each of them can be applied in the modern production environment. The report also considers the human aspect of the lean engineering including the workers involved in the production, customers who make specifications, and the suppliers of the raw materials used in the production process.

The Ethical Aspects of the Study

No one was interviewed for the information presented in this report. However, various researchers and research findings are cited throughout the report. The interviews were not conducted to avoid personal opinions in the report. In addition, an attempt was made to use at least one case study with permission of the company selected to participate in the case study. Mainly, the case study focused on the analysis of how lean approaches were applied in the production procedures of the company (Bradley 2012, p.45).

Introduction to Lean

The lean strategy in the production process was popularized by the Japanese companies led by Toyota in the 1980s. The strategy emphasises the production systems that contribute to the customer’s satisfaction. The production process must be done at the lowest cost with minimum wastes (Landeghemb, Stockmana & Derammelaere 2011, p. 56). The House of Lean production system summarized the entire concept of a lean production and simplified the understanding of the process in a hierarchical term. Companies that employ the lean strategy in their production process base the entire process on the stability and infrastructure, as well as on the pillars identified in the lean strategy (Folley 2011, p.56).

The lean process focuses on the customer and requires that any production process is intended for the customer (Gandhi 2010, p.54). As such, all departments within or without the company should focus its efforts on providing the customer with the best product at the lowest costs and minimal waste. Therefore, the end product should meet the requirements as indicated by the customer, be sold at the right price, be available when demanded, be reliable, and be safe when used. The customer is the point of focus in the lean production process (Hines 2010, p.89). The process is concerned with understanding the needs of the customer, maximizing the available resources, and supplying the product when, where, and how it is required by the customer.

The lean strategy follows five main principles: value stream, value, flow, perfection, and pull (Hamann 2008, p.56). The principles are used in a continued loop of gradual fine-tuning when the lean strategy is applied in the production. The value principle is used to identify the needs of the customer (Hoff 2009, 56). The value stream concerns the identification of the necessary steps for production of some goods while removing the ones that do not create value. The flow arranges the steps in the value stream to focus on the customer. The pull is aimed at allowing the customers to satisfy their wants and at improvement of the overall production process and wastes reduction (Kaizenfield 2012, p. 19).

Lean Lingo Explained

The lean strategy originated in Japan. Therefore, many terms are Japanese (Heap 2012, p. 32). The application of the strategy in other countries required the adoption of the Japanese characters and words that have a special meaning in their original form of adjectival noun. To some degree, the Japanese characters, some of which were adopted from the Chinese language, are the pictorial representations of the words or syllables, similar to the Egyptian hieroglyphics (Larmann & Vodde 2009, p. 45). The Japanese word for Andon features a floating candle ball that represents the purpose. The Lean Andon signals the problems that might be occurring in the process of production. The Gemba word–現場 denotes actuality and place. The former is further divided into see and king. It is defined as a real place or more the place where the actions are taking place (Japanese Symbols 2009, p. 54).

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The Hansei, represented as 反省, is Japanese word denoting looking back and taking away. Take away is further divided into less and eyes. The term means the process of self-improvement through honest reflection on the already completed actions (Kaizen Solutions 2005, p. 50). It means that people should look forward so as to improve continually their performances. The Heijunka that means equality, preparation, and performance is a process of production planning in such a manner that the variations are evened out. The term emphasises standardization and continuity through the production process. The term represented as 平 準 化 is meant to keep inventory levels at a minimum at all times. Similarly, the Hoshin Kanri denoting direction, compass, tube, and logic is the strategic planning of the production process. In the Japanese language, it is represented by the characters 方 針 管 理 (Kaizenfield 2012, p. 86).

The Kanban means looking deeper and is a representation of the signboard. It is defined as the system that is used to replenish the production inventory automatically. The term is represented as カンバン in the Japanese language. The Muda is another term signifying nothing and money and is the representation of the unnecessary wastes. It is represented as 無駄 in the Japanese language. The Muri is nothing and logic and represents the waste produced by unreasonable actions or over-exertion in the production procedures. The Muri is represented as 無理 in the Japanese language (Larmann & Vodde 2009, p.).


Kaizen is formed from two Japanese words; Kai means to change, and Zen means better or good. Therefore, Kaizen means changing for better. As noted by Maurer (2011, p. 14), the purpose of the Kaizen philosophy is to encourage people to keep direct contact with the production tools, so as to be innovative and creative in the use of the machines. Rather than focusing on the high level suggestion, as in classical business development, Kaizen emphasises listening to the proposals from the end operators and developing the proposals into initiatives for improving the business development (Keberdle & CPIM 2008, p.21).

Regardless of the plausibility of the idea or the minuteness of the change, the Kaizen philosophy argues that it can have a very significant effect on the overall production process (Kirchiner 2008, p. 77). The effectiveness of Kaizen was proven by the Toyota Company that encouraged its employees to contribute ideas by paying them a small token without discriminating the thoughts. Through this initiative, the Toyota Company adopted up to 85% of the suggested ideas. It led to a significant improvement comprising a chain of small changes in the production line (Lean Enterprise Institute 2009, p. 47).

The Kaizen philosophy can be implemented in the Kaizen methodology. In the methodology, an employee suggests an idea to improve the production process. The idea goes through the cycles of solutions to get matured. The idea is then registered in the company’s lesson log for the future purposes. Kaizen is implemented through the 5 Whys principle that aims at studying the reason of why the problem has happened and why the solution has been chosen, until there are no more answers. The philosophy requires certain skills so as to ask the right question at the right time (Leimach 2012, p. 12).

Workspace Productivity – 5S

The Workspace productivity is a philosophy aimed at improving the operation systems through the reduction of costs and increasing the effectiveness of the operator. It also considers the improvement of the efficiency and safety of the machines, as well as reduction in the pollution resulting from the production process (Paolucci 2009, p. 23). The philosophy utilizes the eponymous 5S and the entire concept can be summarized as a place for everything and everything in its place. The philosophy is about keeping the work environment tidy and organized and also returning everything used to its logical and organized position (McBride 2002, p. 21).

The Seiri word means a sort and is the first stage in the 5S process. The stage is divided into three steps: arrangement, retaining, and returning. Each of these sub-stages is aimed at achieving a tidy working space where the operator can work optimally (Raistrick 2012, p. 57; Sayer & Williams 2007, p.152). The Seiton means set and is for proper placement of everything and considers where and how the things are placed in the working space. Consequently, easier accessibility and retrieval of the tools whenever they are required is guaranteed. It should also be easier to identify the stored tools (Bicheno & Holweg 2009, p.78).

The Seiso denotes cleanliness and tidiness of the working space and is anglicized as shine. Everything should be put back into its place after work (Michalska & Szewieczek 2007, p. 19). The Seiketsu means standardize; it monitors the first three stages, as well as the schedule implementation for keeping order and cleanliness (Sayer & Williams 2007, p.153). Labelling of the tools can be done for improvement their identification and the right placement (Raistrick 2012, p. 21). The last stage is Shitsuke anglicized as sustain; it means keeping up with the good work through regular audit, making people accountable, and giving incentives for a good performance (Bicheno & Holweg 2009, p.80).

Dealing with the 7 Deadly Wastes

The 7 Deadly Wastes are identified in the Muda process and include defects, inventory, extra processing, long waiting time, motion, transportation, and overproduction (Vanja & Tangl 2011, p. 10). Each of these wastes has a cost implication on the production process, and must be addressed if the costs are to be effectively managed and controlled. The sooner the defects are discovered and rectified, the better; it reduces the costs and identifies the way to deal with the defects. It is an essential part of the entire Lean process. No set procedures have been identified to deal with the wastes (McCarron 2006, p. 33).

The 7 wastes are issues that require a solution, and can be reduced through various lean processes. The defects are the most important issues to be eliminated for a number of reasons. The first is that the defects are likely to slow down the processes in meeting the needs of the customer (Michalska & Szewieczek 2007, p. 35). They can also cause an upshot in the labour costs when an attempt to correct the defects is made. Furthermore, the defects require additional spending in terms of the additional materials. It is also costly and time-consuming to identify, sort, and scrape out the defective parts for the whole production process (Pereira 2009, p. 88). In general, the defects affect the customer rating and may lead to delays and additional costs. This situation can lead to customer dissatisfaction and possible switch over to the competitors. To be eliminated, the defects must be identified and be rectifiable by available staff who have the knowledge and ability to complete this task (Leimbach 2012, p. 55).

Transforming Your Value Stream

Customers are the determining factors in the value creation. Therefore, the value stream should be formulated to reflect the customer’s perception of value (Smalley 2009, p. 54). In such a way, anything that does not add or produce value amounts to waste and should be eliminated. The value stream transformation is a method that examines and analyzes the defects with a view of improving the efficiency. It is done through examination of flows and sequences that affect the processes and must assist in the re-organization of the processes to produce fewer defects (Scott 2012, p. 29).

The Value Stream transformation is undertaken in several steps: evaluation of history (both sales and production) and forecasting the future sales and production. The second is the creation of a product quantity routing analysis to allow the focus on the waste reduction on the goods that are produced (Vanja & Tangl 2011, p. 22). Customers and materials are grouped and sorted according to their connection for identifying the most necessary products. The aim is to reduce excessive and complex production that is costly in terms of labour and time. In addition, the manufacturing processes are sorted as per the product requirement. It is achieved through the analysis of the products with similar manufacturing processes. This step aims at identifying the simple flow routes for the operation. It allows for effective flow of regimes and reduces the cycle time. The initial value stream selection in terms of customer demand, sales value, and profit margin can also contribute into streamlining the production processes to reflect the value of the products (Henderson, Larco & Martin 2012, p. 56).

The SMED System

The Single Minute Exchange or Die approach is used by the companies for reducing the time required for a layout change or machine operation (Ortiz 2010, p. 43). The Die concept originates from stamping the machine that used a die to create correct shapes of various tools used in the production. The minimum time for changeover to a different die is equated to the maximum output, hence, maximum effectiveness of the production system. The maximum effectiveness is exemplified in the Formula One racing where speed of changing a burst/defective tyre is a critical factor for winning the race (Sayer & Williams 2007, p. 99).

SMED originated in the Japanese automotive industry. The approach identifies the tasks that need to be performed when the machine stops. The internal tasks can be performed while the machine is still in operation. The intention is to reduce the downtime in the machine repair and increase productivity (Bradley 2012, p. 20). In order to implement SMED, there is a need to examine the entire operation process during the changeover and identify non-value-adding wastes. Identification of areas that require improvement is also done using the knowledge of the operatives. Often, they are the best source of information and inspiration for the improvement (Processusqualite 2004, p. 45). SMED is ideally implemented in the design stage as subsequently perfected throughout the entire operation of the machine. The purpose is to identify continually the crucial system requirements so that the changeover can be done while the machine continues to operate. The SMED implementation is performed in six stages: observation, separation, conversion, streamlining, documentation, and repetition (Strategos International 2012, p. 11).

Agile Management

The agile management approach uses incremental methods to manage the activities in the production line. This approach utilizes new service development methods that are highly interactive and flexible (Strategos International 2007, p. 43). The human skills are crucial in achieving the objectives of the agile management. Equally important is the understanding of the suppliers and customer needs; their unique characteristics can be integrated into the overall agile management strategy. Agile management combines the lean approaches, six sigma, and kanban elements. They are best applied in the small-scale projects or parts of a large project. Projects that are too complex for the average customer are also implemented through agile management (Raistrick 2012, p. 56).

As noted by Sayer and Williams (2007, p. 45), agile management also refers to extreme project management and uses iterative lifecycle for delivering the deliverables in several stages. The key factor is that agile management focuses on small sections of a larger production process with deliverables given after the end of each cycle. This approach was developed to address a number of challenges in a sequential process (Spool 2012, p. 65). For instance, customers might be unable to define their future needs due to rapid changes in the technology. The agile management delivers prototypes of the future products to enable customers try the future products and make suggestions for the improvements. Consequently, the production processes and all the elements of the production process reflect the potential needs of the customers (Schwaber & Sutherland 2011, p. 56).

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The Lean and Agile approaches offer a number of solutions to the challenges in all industries. Through the lean methodologies, the companies can streamline their production development and manufacture while increasing their agility and enhancement of the production process. The understanding of customer needs is the first step towards application of lean and agile methodologies in solving the problems in the production procedures (Scott 2012, p. 11).

In addition, understanding of various principles associated with lean and agile engineering could go a long way to integrate other approaches such as Kaizen, SCRUM, SMED, and Six Sigma. Therefore, it helps in deciding the most significant steps to achieve the production objectives in a competitive industry. Retaining of customers is also crucial in ensuring that the processes applied in manufacturing are continually improved. The need to maintain efficiency in production while producing at a lower cost determines the approaches that a company will use to streamline its production system.

Lean and Six Sigma

The need for quality improvement in the production process coupled by increased competition in the industries has led to the application of several approaches in the production processes management (Allotey 2012, p. 21). The lean and Six Sigma quality improvement initiatives aim at improving the company’s performance. Lean focuses on every aspect of production and aims at reducing the wastes and lowering the production costs while Six Sigma is a quality control approach intended to deliver continuous improvement. Six Sigma is used in projects with challenges that require improvement, as opposed to the ones that do not have specific goals (Kaynak & Rogers 2013, p. 18).

Quality management, in a competitive environment, ensures that companies can meet their obligations to the customers, as well as their business goals (Foster 2010, p. 77). One of the widely applied management strategies in the contemporary businesses is the Six Sigma model. Its aim is to improve the quality of the process outputs through elimination of defects and defective processes. The strategy involves identification and removal/minimization of various causes of defects or errors and variability in business processes (Lam2010, p. 21).

The Six Sigma model has gained wide prominence in management of different businesses, thanks to its characteristic of using statistical methods (Nanda 2005, p. 99). It also creates special infrastructure of people in the organization to perform particular processes. The employees are divided into Green Belts and Black Belts. This section describes the Six Sigma strategy of management, its levels, and how it can affect the Total Quality Management/Continuous Improvement processes adopted by many organizations (Watson & Howarth, 2012).

The Six Sigma strategy is a methodological approach that encompasses the process of continuous improvement with systematic, factual, and scientific based tools of manufacturing and service provision (Nicolette 2012, p. 10). The purpose of the strategy is to eliminate unproductive steps by focusing on the new measurements and applications of technology for facilitating the improvement. The first methodology is the DMAIC that includes the definition, improvement, measurement, control of the processes, and analysis. The DMADV methodology, on the other hand, includes definition, measurement, analysis, design, and verification of processes. It helps improve the system that is used for developing new products or processes at different levels. Each of these methodologies has six quality levels that have to be achieved to allow the attainment of the anticipated improvement. The levels are executed by both the Six Sigma Black Belts and Green Belts and are overseen by the Six Sigma Black Belts (Fallon, Begun, & Riley, 2013).

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The Six Sigma strategy employs the control chart level that helps monitor variance of processes in a given time. It also enables the company to be aware of any unexpected variation in performance that is likely to cause defects (Nigam 2005, p. 17). Next level is the defect measurement. It helps access the frequency of defects that cause lapses in the production quality.

The Pareto diagram level is focused on the problems and efforts that can yield the greatest potential improvement by revealing the relative frequency in a downward graph. At this level, the implementation of the Six Sigma is based on the Pareto principle, which provides that 20 percent of the defects can cause up to 80% of the resulting problems (Singhal & Singhal 2012, p. 33). For example, any failure in one of the production lines can cause a failure in the service delivery of the entire manufacturing process. A good example is a problem affecting the procurement department. The process mapping level describes how things are done. It enables the participant to visualize the whole process. It assists in the identification of both strong and weak areas for personalized improvement. The importance of this level is that it reduces the cycle time of the improvement implementation and defect while, at the same time, supporting the value of the individual contributions (Rocha-Lona, Garza-Reyes, & Kumar, 2013).

Lean and Six Sigma can be implemented alongside each other in any manufacturing plant for maximizing on the output efficiency (Watson & Howarth 2012, p. 45). While Six Sigma is concerned with improving the quality of various products coming out from the production line, Lean production enhances the reduction of wastes and saving of resources and effort used in the production. The quality and waste are two different aspects that can be managed concurrently when the two approaches are applied in the production process. Lean should focus on the techniques and procedures that lead to the removal of wastes in the manufacturing process. The seven identified wastes in the lean process can make a company loose many customers even if the quality of the products is good. The same applies to Six Sigma; the quality is as important as the processes that are used for producing the final goods. In cases where the quality is high, but the wastes remain, the company will make losses and will shut down losing the customers to the competitors (Austin 2012, p. 90).

The lean production incorporates the ideas of the workers towards improving the management of resources and reducing the production cost. Employees who deal with the machines better understand the small challenges that they encounter in the process of producing a particular product (BAE Systems 2012, p. 71). As such, lean integrates the role of junior employees in identifying possible challenges and preparing recommendations on how to improve them.

On the other hand, Six Sigma is concerned with different departments. Therefore, it incorporates many processes from the beginning to the end of production with a view of making sure there is an assurance with regard to the quality of the product throughout the process of production (Austin 2012, p. 27).

Lean provides the philosophical approach to manufacturing as opposed to a set of rules and requirements of the Six Sigma. The aim of the philosophy is to enforce the success and profitability of the company through employing the best practices in the working environment. It also focuses on reducing the waste and timescales required for producing a single unit. It relies on the willingness of the stakeholders in order to contribute to the processes that have been defined. All employees in the organization from the top management to the junior employees have a responsibility in ensuring the process success (Watson & Howarth 2012, p. 43).

Unlike Six Sigma that defines procedures as a set of rules to be followed in the acquisition of all raw materials and tools used in the production, lean depends on workers to implement the approaches, as opposed to the actual machines or tools that are used in the production (Rocha-Lona, Garza-Reyes & Kumar 2013, p. 56). While Six Sigma looks at the quality of the tools that are used for production of various goods, lean considers the thinking aspect of people involved in the manufacturing process and tries to make them use their creative and imaginative powers to strategize on how to improve their performance at the individual level. It calls for the team work innovative and rejuvenated approach to solving simple challenges (Singhal & Singhal 2012, p. 67). Lean also encourages employees to take the leading positions in their areas of work to become lean and fit that particular environment. The result should be an energized workforce that is ready to deliver products at the right time in the required specifications, quality, and affordable prices.

Conclusion and Dissection

Managing manufacturing processes in large companies can be a challenging task. The necessity of having products of high quality at the lowest cost and minimum wastes has led to the introduction of different production management approaches. The lean philosophy of manufacturing has had a wide application in the motor industry at first, and later, to other industries because of its encompassing elements. Different strategies are intended to make people who are working in production lines be conscious of their environment. It also ensures that their actions contribute to the production costs minimization and wastes elimination. Six Sigma ensures that the quality standards are maintained as per the requirements of the customer. It highlights the steps and procedures that can be undertaken throughout the process of production from acquisition of raw materials from the suppliers to final delivery of the finished products’ to the consumer in the market by allowing for control of quality.

The two approaches can be used in the modern manufacturing environment with the cutthroat competition where a small change in quality may affect the perception of the customer in the market. Just in the same way, a small reduction in the amount of wastes during the production can lead to an expanded increase in the profitability and success of the company. The two approaches can be applied in contemporary manufacturing plants for ensuring that the production is under precious control in terms of quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of the different parties in the production process.

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