What is Lean engineering?

Since its development, the guiding principles of Lean manufacturing have demonstrated to be successful for businesses in virtually any industry. From hospitals implementing Lean company-wide to small offices holding Kaizen events, Lean is proven for improving efficiency and reducing costs.

One definition of Lean engineering is as a “holistic approach” that can help improve the efficacy and productivity of engineering departments within manufacturing organizations.

Engineering Wastes

It’s easy to spot bottlenecks or unexpected stoppages on an assembly line, but finding waste in the engineering department can be a bit trickier. The Eight Wastes of Lean however, can be translated to sources of waste in engineering:

  • Defects: Incorrect requirements or inputs needing to be reworked.
  • Waiting: Extra time waiting for decisions, input, or feedback.
  • Transportation/Motion: Unnecessary handoffs or complex validations of decisions/processes.
  • Inventory: This could be unfinished analyses, reports, and tests.
  • Overprocessing: Any analysis or communication activities, tasks, and processes that are not adding any value.
  • Overproduction: Generating unnecessary reports or other unneeded tests.
  • Unused employee potential: Not including engineers in process improvements or under-utilizing talents on the team.

Other Lean Principles

One of the main concepts of Lean manufacturing, standardized work, can be one of the most powerful tools for engineering departments. Standard work means establishing precise procedures to ensure projects are being completed in the most effective way.

Some other tools engineers can adopt from the Lean toolbox include:

  • PDCA Cycle: Meaning Plan, Do, Check, Act—the PDCA cycle is one of the best methods for solving problems.
  • 5 Whys: Root cause analysis tool used to identify the root of problems.
  • Kanban: Creating a continuous flow within the department with a pull system. A Kanban board helps to prioritize work and cut down on wastes associated with WIP.
  • 5S: Is the department set up efficiently? Clean up the work space and organize for optimal productivity.

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