The term “lean production” refers to the set of tools and techniques used to streamline and improve a company’s production system. With its roots in the Toyota Production System, lean production aims to boost productivity while reducing waste. Companies that successfully embrace lean production methods can achieve impressive improvements in their performance. The superiority of a lean production system was first identified by Womack and Jones during their research on Japanese carmakers. Initially, it was believed that lean was only applicable to production, whereas today we know those principles can be applied in any sector.
With more and more organizations (not just manufacturing firms) turning to automation to try and solve every-day problems, lean production offers an approach that gives the operators and their work the dignity they deserve. This idea is best expressed by the concept of the andon, a cord hanging above lean production lines that operators can pull whenever they encounter a problem they can’t solve right way (this is the base of the fundamental lean principles of jidoka, “automation with a human touch”). Lean is clearly an alternative to reckless management that considers people as mere capital.
The main characteristics of a lean production system are the fact the different stages of production happen in a sequence without interruptions (known as flow) and that the pace of production is set by the customers (pull).