In 2020, lean manufacturing is not news anymore. On the contrary, it’s a well-known method to improve productivity and reduce operating costs at the same time. How? Lean thinking argues the key is continuous operational improvements (kaizen) and removing “waste” (muda). And, by waste, we mean any activity that does not add to the product itself, and for which the customer is not willing to pay for. 


Where do you come in? Glad you asked. There are a lot of things facility managers can do to reduce waste, as you’ll realise once you know more about each of the 8 wastes of lean. So, now it’s our turn to ask a question: are you ready to dumpster dive into the 8 wastes of lean?


What is the origin of Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is a relatively new concept. The term “lean” was coined in 1988, and its 5 Principles, the 5S, were presented to the Western World only in 1996. Yet, in practice, lean manufacturing has existed since the 1930s under another name – the ‘Toyota Way’. Lean thinking, lean philosophy and lean methodologies all drink from the same fountain: Toyota’s Production System from the 30s, which is still used nowadays.


But to follow the lean way, you need to understand the 8 wastes of lean manufacturing first. Seven of them remain unchanged since the 30s, the 8th is a new addition. Once you spot each of them in your own operation, you can take action, eliminate them, and reduce waste. So without further ado… 


What are the 8 Wastes of Lean?

  • Defects

There’s no question defective products are a waste of time and money. Defects may result from lack of standards or quality control, poor production design, incomplete BOMs, as well as poor machine repairs and maintenance. The latter result in a decrease in performance and quality, which will impact OEE negatively. Make sure there’s a checklist or some kind of quality control process at every step of the chain, and keep an eye out for OEE. If it increases, you’re producing less waste. If it decreases, take action!

  • Extra-Processing 

Extra-processing is any activity that increases the cost or the time it takes to produce an item. For example, using parts that are more expensive than what the customer is willing to pay for. Like… serving home roasted coffee to someone who’s happy with instant coffee powder. More often than not, overprocessing is a consequence of poorly designed and redundant processes, both at shop floor level and higher up. And then, there are management and administrative issues, such as duplication of data or tasks. One possible solution is to work on process mapping and streamlining workflows, which you can achieve by integrating platforms and tools. 

  • Overproduction 

Producing more than required, faster than required, or before it’s needed is potentially the worst waste around. Customer’s needs often change quicker than it takes to manufacture a large batch; and an output that is higher than customer demand will just make stock lie around. (In the worst case scenario, it might not even sell and the product will be spoiled.) It’s easy to think overproduction only happens when you’re out of step with the market, but it can also be the result of an unreliable process, unstable schedules, and poor communication. Use data to forecast demand and production times, and act accordingly. 

  • Waiting

“Time is money” is one of the few expressions that translate in every language. Whether it’s waiting around for people, parts or materials, documents or tools, or for machines to become available again, it’s a waste. As a facility or maintenance manager, we don’t need to remind you that it’s your job to ensure equipment stays available, and that machinery or tools different teams share should be available when they need them. Waiting can be greatly improved by simplifying authorisation processes, centralising information and, of course, increasing availability.

  • Inventory

Improper inventory management can mean everything from having too many products waiting for distribution, to understocking supplies, to keeping old 90s and 00s computers around. Materials that you won’t use eat up space, and prevent people from finding what they really need faster. (Double threat!) Companies who follow strict lean methodologies order parts and supplies strictly when needed to improve storage room usage. At the same time, you might want to implement a queue system to avoid understocking parts. 

  • Transport

Moving the product or materials more times than needed is another waste of resources and time. Customers are not willing to pay more for these services. Indeed, they shouldn’t overpay just because the company is not planning its supply chain or MRO procurement appropriately, or because it decided to have multiple storage facilities. Excessive transportation can be avoided through better production planning, storage management, and workplace organisation.

  • Motion 

We just mentioned excessive transportation, and now motion. Aren’t these the same thing?Transportation is the unnecessary movement of products and materials, while motion is the movement of people. Any motion that does not add value to the final product is a waste – for example, fetching shared equipment, or gathering tools that are far away.  As a facility manager, this is perhaps the waste you can help prevent the most. Here are a few examples: improving plant layouts to cut distances, establishing visual controls, and adopting U-shaped production lines. 

  • Unutilised talent

Unutilised talent is one of the 8 wastes of lean, and the one that wasn’t contemplated in the original Japanese muda. But underutilised talent is also a waste of human resources. For example, occupying operators with tasks that are below their skill level, or failing to listen to employee feedback to improve the process. If employees feel unvalued, either because they are unfulfilled or their input is not heard, they’ll disengage. Besides, you might lose brilliant, talented people to your competitors! 


With Industry 4.0 and IoT becoming more and more a reality, it’s easier to think everything is already sorted out. However, technology and philosophy need to go hand in hand to achieve full productive potential. Adhering to a lean methodology will streamline processes — and, even if you don’t subscribe to it a 100%, there are always advantages to eliminating any of the so-called “8 wastes of lean”. 


Want to learn more about Lean?

Read our article Lean Maintenance for Dummies.