By Glacial Wood / December 23, 2015

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean principles are derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry. It isn’t a trendy term that the manufacturing industry or anyone in production started using as a meaningless cliché. Basic application of lean manufacturing means companies have a set of tools that assist in the identification and continuous elimination of waste.  Lean manufacturing is a global philosophy and I’ll tell you how we apply it at Glacial.


The history of lean manufacturing can be traced back to Kaizen or the Toyota Production System. After Japan was defeated in WWII, Toyota was looking for a means to compete with the U.S. car industry by developing and implementing a range of low-cost improvements within the business. High quality, safety, and employee morale are all necessary considerations of lean manufacturing; no matter what is done to reduce cost or shorten lead-time nothing can negatively affect those three elements. It’s a precarious balance but if focus is concentrated on elimination of waste, then those elements will be protected. The elimination of waste are generally narrowed to these seven types:

  1. Overproduction
  2. Waiting time of operators and machines
  3. Unnecessary transportation
  4. Inappropriate processing
  5. Excess stock of inventory
  6. Non value-adding motion
  7. Defects in quality

This framework isn’t limited to manufacturing; it can be applied to the hospitality industry or logistics at a call center. Anytime there is a process repeated over and over to produce the same thing (a steak dinner, LASIK surgery, cars), lean can be applied.


Lean is nothing more than constantly making small improvements to your business. There’s a saying I use often and that is satisfied, but never content. What that means is, I’m continually looking at our process and thinking, how can we do this better? That’s the core value of lean. A little more effective every day. Another large principle of lean is added value. It’s easiest to think of added value as the exact opposite of waste. Within every process there are two elements, those that add value and those that do not. Both take time and money, but only one yields value.

Value adding: valuable effort -> costs time, costs money, adds value = valuable

Non-value adding: valueless effort and obvious waste -> costs time, costs money, adds no value = waste

The time in a day or week is static. We’ll always have the same number of finite hours to get work done. When you realize that, you’ll automatically look at other ways to affect your bottom line.


Another key aspect of lean manufacturing is teamwork. The seven types of waste as illustrated above should be eight as you consider behavioral waste, or under-utilized teammates. Fostering culture consists of teammate empowerment. Empowered teammates bring their knowledge and involvement to daily operations, and can support teams through tasks such as training. It is our job to support this framework because at the end of the day, it’s not me or the rest of leadership who’s on the floor, moving between machines, crafting the product, or working to add value. We have to be committed to the process for the outcome to be effective.

And lean isn’t a set it and forget it principle, or a short-term goal. It takes continuous monitoring and effort toward sustainability. Again – a little more effectiveness every day. How can Glacial Wood continue to produce the highest quality turned wood and square parts at the lowest cost with the shortest lead time for our customers? With flexible, responsive teammates and processes. That’s the first step in lean. Stay connected to our blog as I continue to cover this topic and highlight more of these principles at work at Glacial Wood.


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