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Lean – Common Terms and Tools

When people talk about Lean they often associate it with complication Japanese manufacturing philosophy and whilst the words may not make too much sense, the underlying methodologies are quite straightforward.





A system that regulates the supply (internal and external) of goods within the process.  A Kanban card is used to identify the demand for replenishment

Example: Factory three bin system (Bin 1 – Production in use, Bin 2 – Full in stock, Bin 3 – Empty at suppliers).  The bins rotate position as production empties Bin 1.

The Kanban system can reduce the need for physical inventories / stock lists instead relying on signal cards to identify the need for additional supply.


Kaizen is the Japanese terminology for sustained continuous improvement efforts.  It is a strategy where there are coordinated combined efforts to make regular incremental improvements in the production process.

Ensures the knowledge and experience from across all levels of the business are utilised and focussed on continuous improvement.

Poka Yoke

Poka Yoke is the philosophy of designing in error detection / prevention within the manufacturing process with the aim of reducing the need / reliance on quality inspections and achieving zero defects.

Poka-yokes can be as simple as a steel pin on a fixture that keeps incorrectly placed parts from fitting properly

Example:  a 3 pin plug cannot be inserted into a socket incorrectly

Reduces rework / defect detection costs


There is a place for everything and everything has its place

  • SEIRI – Sort (eliminate that which is not needed)
  • SEITON – Set In Order (organize remaining items)
  • SEISO – Shine (clean and inspect work area)
  • SEIKETSU – Standardise (write standards for above)
  • SHITSUKE – Sustain (regularly apply the standards)

Eliminates wastes in the workplace, reducing time spend looking for tools, moving tools and equipment to create space to work etc


Andon is a visual alert system to quickly identify where assistance is required.  Typically a cord or button at the workspace will be pressed, immediately stopping production and notifying the supervisors that assistance is required

Improves communication / escalation of issues to allow quicker resolutions


Gemba, literally translated, means The Real Place.  It is a reminder of the need to spend time where the real work happens, the shop floor, the office etc

Gemba encourages communication and participation ensuring that all levels of the business have a thorough understanding of the processes.

Value Stream Map

Value Stream Mapping is the visual mapping of a process showing the flow of production.  It is used to show the current state of processes and identifies opportunities for improvement.

The mapping visually exposes wastes within the process allowing focus for continuous improvement opportunities.

Takt time

The Takt Time is the rate at which product must be made to satisfy demand.

It is simply calculated by dividing the production time available by the

It is determined by dividing the available production time by the customer demand give X no of components per hour (/day etc)

The Takt time provides the required rate of production.  It allows;

  • manufacturing cells / processes to be balanced
  • simple / clear and meaningful targets for operatives
  • avoidance of inventory build up
  • focus of capacity improvement efforts



Just In Time.  Just in time manufacture is the philosophy of parts being pulled through production by customer demand rather than pushed through based on forecasted demand.

The Just in Time approach is effective in reducing stock and inventory levels, improving cash flow and reduces operational footprint.


Key Performance Indicators.

KPIs are metrics designed to provide indication of progress towards critical business objectives.  Well designed and communicated KPIs can promote positive behaviour and a sense of shared collective goals.

Well selected KPIs ensure focus of efforts towards activities that contribute to overall business success.


The 7 Elements

Muda is the main focus of Lean methodologies.  Muda simply means waste – any activity within a process that does not add value

The 7 basic Elements of Muda (Waste) are;

  • Correction
  • Overproduction
  • Processing
  • Conveyance
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting

Identifying all the wastes in a process is the first step to elimination and greater efficiencies


Overall Equipment Effectiveness

OEE is a system by which to measure the productivity of production.  There are three categories of loss;

  • Availability (Down Time)
  • Performance (Efficiency of cycles)
  • Quality (Rejects)

OEE provides a measurement and benchmark for performance


Root Cause Analysis

RCA is a problem solving methodology that focusses on identifying a correcting underlying causes rather than applying quick fixes to the immediate symptoms.

Helps reduce reoccurrence of issues and frame continuous improvement efforts


Single Minute Exchange of Dies

SMED is the philosophy of reducing setup and changeover times to less than 10 minutes

A reduction in changeover allows for a more flexible production environment, reducing the impact of product variety, customer changes and reduces the criticality of high batch production

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