Exploring Lean Manufacturing Concepts

Leam Manufacturing
Leam Manufacturing
Leam Manufacturing

Exploring Lean Manufacturing Concepts

Shigeo Shingo, once considered the world’s leading expert on manufacturing practices noted: “the most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize” (Lopresti, 2018, para. 24). Whether you work in a plant, factory, or office environment, understanding how to apply lean manufacturing concepts to the day-to-day activities of an organization, in order to create value and eliminate waste, can make you a valuable asset as well as position you for career advancement.

This is precisely why General Motors joined with Kettering University to develop the MS Lean Manufacturing.  This degree is one of a kind, focusing on mechanical engineering and the practical application of lean concepts. Enrolling in this program provides access to the tools and techniques of lean manufacturing as well as the opportunity to learn from industry experts who bring their knowledge and experience directly to students.

A Bit of History

The manufacturing industry has steadily evolved from craft to mass production. Before the middle of the 20th century, hallmarks of mass production were large amounts of inventory, thousands of low-skilled assembly line workers, and a great deal of diversified waste. Although many companies have applied numerous production strategies designed to increase their return on investment, none were as successful as Toyota. In the middle of the 20th century, Toyota pioneered lean manufacturing; a new way to think about manufacturing along with a specific production strategy that would forever change the way businesses think about their products, their employees, and their customers.

At its core, lean manufacturing concepts are about maximizing customer value by minimizing waste and continuously improving processes and procedures. As such, these concepts are not beholden to only automobile manufacturers. All kinds of businesses, regardless of whether they sell goods or provide services, can benefit from adopting a lean manufacturing philosophy.

Nike is a good example of a company that used lean concepts to complete a successful turnaround. In the late 1990s the much-maligned company was faced with a barrage of problems and negative public relations regarding their use of sweatshops in Southeast Asia, To initiate the turnaround, Nike adopted a lean mindset. As a result of applying the principles and practices of lean, the company was able to “reduce overtime in contract factories, increase factory worker wages, and create a leaner supply chain” (Griffin-Smith, 2016, p#).

In today’s competitive, global marketplace, many businesses incorporate lean concepts because they see the benefits of combining the elimination of waste, and the ability to add value to goods and services for their consumers. Every company has a different process they use to produce and sell their goods and services, but when implementing a lean transformation, the goals remain the same: eliminate waste, add value, and increase profit. The five principles of lean, combined with the DMAIC process – the problem-solving methodology supporting lean, are used in various industries to improve quality output, streamline processes, and reduce waste.

Five Principles of Lean

1. Value

Every company, regardless of industry, must understand what value a customer or client places upon their products or services. It is this value that determines how much money the customer is willing to pay. Once managers understand this concept they can better determine the cost of the products and/or services they offer.

2. The Value Stream

The value stream is the complete flow of a product’s life cycle from the origin of the raw materials used to make the product through the customer’s cost of using and ultimately disposing of the product. Once a company understands its value stream, they can clearly identify where in the cycle there is a value add and where there is a waste. Once the waste is identified, efforts to remove it can begin.

3. Flow

In lean thinking, one key to eliminating waste is making sure that the product or service has a complete and uninterrupted flow. Carefully designed flow across the entire value chain tends to minimize waste and increase value to the customer.

4. Pull

Unlike traditional western manufacturing, which uses a push approach often amassing inventory, the lean approach focuses on a pull approach. This approach means that nothing is made until a customer orders it. Mastering this approach requires great flexibility and incredibly short cycle times of design, production, and delivery of the product or service.

5. Perfection

This idea explains the act of continuously removing the root causes of poor quality and waste, always striving for perfection in the process of creating and delivering products and services.

These principles can also be applied successfully to other areas of life. In fact, many KUO students have shared their experiences of applying lean concepts to the way they design their home or organize their garage!


In today’s workplace environment, it is important that companies use techniques to maximize production efficiency in order to sustain a competitive advantage. A process that dovetails with lean concepts is the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) process. This problem-solving methodology and quality improvement procedure is comprised of five phases. Following is a snapshot of each phase:


  • Clearly define the problem, improvement activity, opportunity for improvement, project goals, and/or customer (internal and external) requirements
  • Identify the overall project leader
  • Establish teams and leaders


  • Measure process performance and document steps of the process with maps and project flows
  • Gather product to process relationships data
  • Identify the current quality and criteria


  • Determine root causes of variation, poor performance (defects)
  • Graphically display the data
  • Verify the cause of the problem


  • Improve process performance by addressing and eliminating the root causes
  • Finalize process documentation
  • Train staff


  • Monitor ongoing metrics and reporting responsibilities
  • Continue daily operations management

The goal of the lean process is to keep creating value in products and services used by clients and customers while eliminating waste and removing potential defects to achieve all manner of continual improvements in production, productivity, and service. The DMAIC process is a natural fit with lean as it affords professionals the tools and techniques necessary to create and sustain such improvements.

There is much more to learn about lean! Connect with an experienced Professional Advisor to talk about how getting a Master of Science degree in Lean Manufacturing from Kettering University can help you leverage lean concepts and position yourself for continuing success in the industry of your choice.

“My advice for anyone considering earning a degree from Kettering University Online is to go for it because my experience with the program was fantastic. I really enjoyed it, and, in fact, I’m considering doing another degree from Kettering University Online!”

Kettering Online's Innovative Master's Degree in Lean Manufacturing

The only program of its kind in the United States, Kettering University's online Lean Manufacturing master's degree program teaches the modern manufacturing process knowledge and Lean Six Sigma skills needed to improve quality output, streamline processes and reduce waste

The lean program at KUO truly enhances your skill set by learning to think lean. Lean thinking is a mindset and developing them here at KUO will promote you to apply it and make some strides in your career. The resources and learning materials have been revised and updated to include the latest research and methods. The methodologies learned will help you to bring about better efficiencies to your processes. The faculty are all well versed and continue to apply lean methodologies at their work and life to stay on a path of continuous improvement.



Lisa Nerkowski, 2018 Master of Science in Lean Manufacturing graduate.

Kettering University Online. (2019). Kettering University Online alumni interview – Nicole Nerkowski

How Nike Used Lean to Solve its Sweatshop Problem

Who Was Shigeo Shingo and Why Is He Important to Process Improvement?