Lean is at Sustainability’s Core

Systematically Eliminating Waste

To be Sustainable — that is, to be in a position to “thrive in perpetuity”[i] — a manufacturer must be operationally competitive. This is especially true in today’s global, rapidly changing economy. There is no place to hide.

Competitiveness starts with the systematic elimination of waste in all of its many forms. “Waste in all of its many forms” includes losses due to hazardous working conditions, unsafe work practices, emissions to the environment, inefficient use of energy, and on and on. Lean Manufacturing provides a proven, readily available means to do that.

Just about everybody in manufacturing has heard about Lean Manufacturing, or about the stunning success of the Toyota manufacturing system, which serves as Lean’s global model. The fact is that Lean Manufacturing is good sense, systematically applied. Lean doesn’t require computers, robots or big capital outlays. It does require access to the know-how, a willingness to apply that know-how, and an experienced person to lead the effort.

Lean Manufacturing Know-how

– Almost all Manufacturing Extension Partnership[ii] locations offer practical assistance in implementing Lean Manufacturing, including access to workforce training. The MEPs are public / private partnerships between the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST – part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) and local partners in every State. You can locate your nearest MEP office at: http://www.nist.gov/mep/find-your-local-center.cfm. Take some time to look around the NIST website while you are there — lots of interesting stuff.

Lean and Green Toolkit
– Your friends at the EPA offer a useful collection of free tools for getting started with Lean Manufacturing.  As one would expect, the EPA’s tools emphasize the link between Lean and environmental concerns. Download at: http://www.epa.gov/lean/environment/toolkits/environment/

Local Resources
– Many States and localities offer assistance to manufacturers, often through economic development agencies or through community colleges. Ask around.

– There are many experienced Lean Manufacturing consultants available. Google something like “Consultants Lean Manufacturing”, plus your location.

Training Materials
– Business Basics, Bill Gaw’s Lean Manufacturing consultancy, has a series of seven practical and useful Lean Manufacturing training presentations in Power Point format. They are available for free. Apply on Bill’s website, www.bbasicsllc.com

– Amazon lists over 1,400 titles in hardback alone under “Lean Manufacturing”. My personal favorites are:

How to Implement Lean Manufacturing
, Lonnie Wilson (2009). This is a very practical “how to” book written by and experienced practitioner and teacher.

Lean Thinking
, James Womack & Daniel Jones (2003). This is more a book of examples and theory than a practitioner’s guide. Still, it provides valuable insight into what Lean Manufacturing is and how it works.

Lean Six Sigma
– Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma are complementary techniques for improving competitiveness. Six Sigma, while very powerful, does require special training in applied statistical concepts. My usual recommendation is to begin with Lean, then add Six Sigma as resources permit.

Note: There is a Lean Six Sigma group on LinkedIn. As of 4 April 2012, the group has 115,545 members. It also lists 932 job openings for Lean / Six Sigma practitioners. I mention this in case you think of Lean and Six Sigma as “flavors of the week”.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section.

Chuck - Pacific Coast
…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

: Individuals interested in Sustainability and manufacturing are invited to connect with me on LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com).

Download a PDF version of this post at: http://app5.websitetonight.com/projects2/4/9/9/4/2164994/uploads/Blog_Post_-_Lean_is_at_Sustainability_s_Core_-_5_April_2012.PDF

[i] Werbach, Adam, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press (2009)

[ii] For more on the MEPs and what they do, download The Boots on the Ground, a free Jera commentary, available at: http://app5.websitetonight.com/projects2/4/9/9/4/2164994/uploads/Commentary_-_The_Boots_on_the_Ground_-_August_2011.pdf