Lean manufacturing tools and techniques aim to reduce waste potential while making manufacturing processes as efficient as possible. Utilizing the most useful tools and techniques is key to facilitating process optimization.

Lean manufacturing tools and techniques

Muda, Mura, and Muri – The Lean Manufacturing Waste Trifecta

The concept of “lean” ties very closely to principles implemented by Toyota, in their Toyota Production System, as a means of addressing three core challenges in a manufacturing environment: Muda, Mura, and Muri.

Each of these has a different meaning, but all of them detract from the effectiveness and value creation within the manufacturing process. Specifically, these three terms have the following connotations:

  • Muda – Waste in any form, whether it be time, resources, or efficiency
  • Mura – Unevenness, or irregularity (generally in the process management sphere) that leads to waste
  • Muri – Overburden, overload, or being unreasonable; to expect more than people, tools, or resources are capable of doing

How do these concepts interconnect, and how do they relate to lean manufacturing tools and techniques?

Simply put, Muda (waste) is the primary challenge that lean manufacturing tries to eliminate. Subsequently, addressing Mura (unevenness) in the manufacturing process, allows you to automatically eliminate waste by distributing work across teams and resources more evenly.

Muri (overburden) can be removed by closely monitoring and assessing capacity across all manufacturing areas, including workstations, machines, and employees. From there, planning and effective resource allocation can focus on creating optimal balance across the organization. It should be noted that adjusting any of the three challenges can affect the others as well.

The idea of lean manufacturing has taken different forms over the years, with some companies developing their own variations of the concept. Let’s explore some of the most prominent methodologies that have been successfully utilized across the industry.


Kaizen, from the Japanese phrase meaning “good change” or “continuous improvement,” is a strategy wherein employees work proactively to create consistent improvements but in minuscule increments.

Kaizen is an excellent technique for achieving consistent improvement.

The main strength of this lean technique lies in its ability to implement cultural changes throughout the company. Since every employee is equally involved in constant improvement, it becomes an integral part of the company’s makeup.

Using Kaizen to replace scheduled checks to eliminate waste and find problems is beneficial as issues generally get eliminated sooner. Few lean manufacturing and work automation techniques are more effective than those that seamlessly integrate with your company’s daily operations.

Using constant analysis to remove Mura, preventing some parts of the workflow from becoming overburdened and others from creating waste, Kaizen aims to create a perfect balance.

The 5S System

The 5S System is one of the most diverse lean manufacturing techniques, consisting of five separate, interlocking components that start with the letter ‘S.’ The five parts of this process are as follows:

  1. Seiri (Sort) – Decide which items in the factory or workflow are important and which aren’t. Eliminate non-essential elements.
  2. Seiton (Straighten) – Ensure that every item in the factory or workflow has a home. Everything employees need should be easy to find.
  3. Seiso (Shine) – Keep things clean, both physically and digitally, to make problems and waste easier to identify.
  4. Seiketsu (Standardize) – Create well-defined standards, both for the factory and for work processes.
  5. Shitsuke (Sustain) – Create a culture of maintaining standards over the long term and consistently paring down unnecessary processes.

The 5S system is an excellent lean manufacturing technique for eliminating unevenness. It allows you to cut down on both waste and overburden by streamlining every process to achieve maximum efficiency.

Six Big Losses

A major lean technique used throughout the world, the “Six Big Losses” refer to the six most common causes of waste on the production line or even in a workflow. Specifically, these six things are:

  1. Breakdowns – Machine breakdowns and breakdowns in system processes.
  2. Setup and Adjustment – Time spent on setting up or adjusting machinery or workflow processes.
  3. Idling or Short Stops – Idling or pauses caused in work due to obstructions, blockages, and other minor problems.
  4. Speed Inefficiency – When operators or machines become ineffective, taking excessive amounts of time to accomplish the same tasks.
  5. Defects – Damages to products, which need to be corrected.
  6. Rejects – Products rejected from the manufacturing line due to damages, defects, or other inconsistencies.

Monitoring the six big losses is a useful lean technique that helps to cut down on waste, overburden, and unbalance.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

Overall Equipment Effectiveness, or OEE, is a useful framework for measuring loss of productivity within any given process. Typically it focuses on three different categories of waste, namely:

  • Downtime
  • Slow Cycles
  • Rejects

By providing a baseline for what is an acceptable overall equipment effectiveness level, companies and manufacturers can modify existing workflows and processes to achieve better OEE.

OEE - Overall Equipment Effectiveness

This lean manufacturing tool focuses on eliminating waste, thereby also creating better balance and reducing the burden placed on certain parts of the manufacturing process.

Maintaining your equipment in an optimal condition will also increase the profitability of the enterprise as a whole by eliminating time and resource waste. By shifting these elements to where they’re truly needed, the company can produce more products of the type and specification currently required to fulfill orders.


Kanban is a Japanese word meaning “billboard” or “signboard.” .” Historically, employees would use a physical “signal” card to note that the company needed to acquire something such as supplies needed for a process, or a new part for a machine.

That card would then be taken (generally by a runner) to the person in charge of acquiring that particular item. The sole requirement of the system was that the signal card may only be filled in when that item was truly needed.

Today, this process is mainly digital and doesn’t use any runners. Instead, employees fill out a digital signal card, which instantly travels to the appropriate member of the acquisitions team. Also, it’s important to recognize that the Kanban system is now used across many different kinds of workflows and processes. It’s no longer relegated to just order processing for supplies. A basic introduction to lean manufacturing tells us that this multi-faceted approach is ideal.

Kanban board

How does Kanban benefit lean manufacturing processes? By streamlining any workflow or process so the business operates more efficiently and effectively, Muda, i (waste) in multiple forms can be eliminated

Additionally, if we use supply acquisition as an example, Muri (overburden) is reduced through better resource allocation and inventorying only those items that are required to be on hand at all times. And Mura (unevenness) can be more closely monitored and adjusted through a more agile and adaptable approach to the day-to-day. Business Process Management Platforms

So how does a company get to implementing lean manufacturing practices, or improve upon practices that have already been in place for a long period of time?

Undoubtedly, you or your organization have been involved in or at least apprised of the massive shift to “digital” in today’s business environments. Manufacturing, in particular, is going through massive change under the moniker of Industry 4.0. Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are in the limelight and offer significant value to certain parts of a manufacturer’s infrastructure.

But what about going beyond equipment and warehouse automation? The workforce is as important to achieving “lean” as is managing the technical and physical aspects of manufacturing. The good news is that new technologies are also allowing for improvements in how work is managed at scale. This includes automation of tasks where appropriate, full visibility of work across teams, better quality control and more secure management of all work activities – especially those where auditability is critical.

This is where workflow automation and business process management platforms like HighGear come into play. The solution has been purpose-built for managing work in an agile and adaptable way – all without writing a single line of code. HighGear allows all team members to seamlessly orchestrate their work regardless of their location. And the platform provides managers and decisionmakers real-time visibility into how the components of any workflow or process are operating.

From a lean manufacturing perspective, it is this detailed visibility, permissions-enabled activity and extensive work orchestration capability that provide real value. Eliminating waste, creating balance and achieving evenness is feasible beyond the shop floor. Whether it’s first call to first article or building robust quality or quoting processes, getting even “leaner” has never been more achievable.

About Josh Yeager, COO

As HighGear’s COO, Josh is responsible for managing the Product Development, Professional Services, and Customer Support teams. His eye for detail and quality are what drive the company forward in its pursuit of excellence.
He’s been at HighGear since the very beginning, helping to build it from the ground up as its co-founder. First, he was responsible for leading product design, but as the company and his experience grew, he took on more management responsibilities, eventually becoming HighGear’s Chief Operating Officer.
He’s a graduate of the University of Maryland. Prior to HighGear, Josh worked on veterinary pharmaceutical reference software and custom business applications.
He’s married to his beautiful wife, Tara, with whom he has four children. In his free time, Josh loves nothing more than enjoying a good book.

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