Lean Production: With these methods you can achieve resource-efficient production!

written on 12.04.2021

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The goal of lean production is to eliminate all waste in production. The aim is to reduce activities and resources that do not create added value for the customer.

According to a study by the Lean Enterprise Research Centre, 60% of the production activities in a typical factory are wasteful and do not add value to the customer.

Origins and meaning

The lean idea became popular in the 1990s. However, the origin of the basic idea of lean appeared as early as the 1950s in the Toyota company in Japan. Lean Production – often also called Lean Manufacturing – belongs to the overarching term “Lean Management”.

Lean production means that care is taken not to waste resources such as labour or materials in production. The efficiency of production is to be increased both by reducing costs and by increasing productivity.

Advantages of Lean Production

Lean production ensures greater resource efficiency and brings with it a number of advantages:

  • Lower costs, through reduced material and energy consumption.
  • Competitive advantage, through cost savings thanks to lean production.
  • Improved production.
  • Reduction of environmental impact and improvement of the company’s sustainability.

Resource efficiency and sustainability in production are becoming increasingly important, both economically and in terms of climate/environment. Raw materials and materials represent the largest cost factor in manufacturing, so it is precisely here that there is potential for savings through lower material consumption.

Cost structure in the manufacturing industry according to the Federal Statistical Office. (Graphic from ressourceneffizienz.de)

Lean Production or Lean Manufacturing thus helps to discover potential savings. These can be used by eliminating unnecessary waste.

Types of waste

Put simply, according to the Lean Mindset, all steps in the process that do not add value for the customer are considered waste. Eight different types of waste are often mentioned.


These types of waste are: Defective products and rejects, overproduction, unnecessary transport, waiting times, too much material in the warehouse, unnecessary movement of employees, unused knowledge of employees, and duplicated processes.

To eliminate or reduce these types of waste, Lean Management has many different methods for each type of waste.

Application of Lean Management methods

In order to achieve lean production, specific methods of lean management can be applied. The following is a selection of methods from the Lean Management toolbox: 5S method, Just-In-Time, Kaizen, Jidoka and standardisation of work processes.


The 5S method focuses on orderly work areas and a structured workflow. Waste caused by unnecessary movements of staff and poor organisation (e.g. finding documents, test reports and test equipment) should be reduced.

In 5 steps, this method ensures an orderly workspace:


The first step is selection, where everything that is not part of the workspace is eliminated. In the second step, the remaining elements are sorted. This is followed by cleaning, checking and keeping the work areas clean.Standards are now to be set for the previously determined items. The fifth step is to ensure that the previously established standards are properly maintained.

For the implementation, control and maintenance of 5S, digital checklists can provide support to define standardised processes and record structured data. The digitalisation of these processes supports the automation of procedures.


The Just-in-Time method eliminates waste caused by excessive material inventories.

With Just-in-Time, the request for parts is based on specific orders/demands. The parts are delivered exactly when they are needed. This makes the production flow more economical. The advantage of Just-In-Time is that stocks are kept low. Storage areas can thus be reduced and space saved.

It is important to be able to rely on the supplier and to maintain a good working relationship. At the same time, incoming goods inspections can be omitted. Instead, regular quality assurance audits should be carried out and the information and data requested from the supplier.

The Just-In-Time method goes hand-in-hand with many other lean management methods.


The Kaizen method can help with several types of waste. Most importantly, the Kaizen method refers to using the knowledge of the employees.

Kaizen focuses on continuous improvement. The strategy is for employees to proactively initiate improvements to work practices, operations and processes on a regular basis. The Kaizen method focuses on day-to-day work to uncover and implement efficiencies in the way work is done. This ongoing improvement process leads to the long-term optimisation of work processes in order to keep financial overheads as low as possible.

By using the knowledge within the company, better and more efficient production is achieved.


Jidoka is the partial automation of processes in production and manufacturing. This partial automation has the advantage that it is cheaper than full automation and still helps to save labour.

Mapping the processes with digital workflow management tools helps to facilitate implementation. This enables simple and flexible automation of cross-departmental and cross-company processes.

KPI and SMART Goals

Lean Production can be supported and made measurable by defining meaningful KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) derived from the production processes and developing SMART goals.

When formulating SMART goals, it is important to ensure that the goals are Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic and Timed. This ensures that the defined goals can actually be achieved.

KPIs are an important control element to continuously check the quality and efficiency of individual processes. If necessary, countermeasures for improvement and error reduction can be identified and initiated at an early stage.


More efficiency can be achieved with lean production. To eliminate waste in production, companies can specifically apply lean management methods. In this way, more resource efficiency and sustainability can be achieved in production.

In particular, the structured collection of quality data at every stage of the value chain and ongoing evaluation can contribute significantly to efficiency increases and higher productivity.