Why is Lean manufacturing called Lean?

Lean manufacturing is a very popular strategy that helps companies to reduce waste so they can improve the bottom line of their facility. The strategy is so popular that many people never even think about the name anymore, but it is somewhat unusual. So, the question may arise about why it is called Lean Manufacturing. There is a joke about this where a manufacturing manager comments that he hopes Lean refers to operating efficiently, and not employees leaning against a wall with nothing to do.

This joke does hint at the real meaning behind the word lean in this context. The first dictionary definition of lean is as an adjective and means, “thin, especially healthy so; having no superfluous fat.” When you look at that definition and see that Lean Manufacturing is focused on eliminating waste and any superfluous efforts, it is easy to see where the name comes from.

Making Your Manufacturing Fit

If a person wants to become lean, they will exercise more and eat a healthier diet. Cutting out empty calories is a form of waste. In addition, eliminating the fat from your body is also a type of waste since it wastes your energy and can harm your health.

When it comes to a manufacturing facility that needs to be lean, it is necessary to cut out anything that isn’t adding value. This will look differently in each facility, but in general it will mean operating a ‘just in time’ system where there isn’t excessive production of any products and everything is done as efficiently as possible.

Where the Name Originated

The actual source of the term Lean Manufacturing comes from an American professor who was studying manufacturing in Japan, and specifically Toyota’s production systems. In Japan, Lean Manufacturing is typically known as Just-in-Time, or JIT. It may also be referred to as the Toyota Production System. No matter what you call it, Lean Manufacturing can help to improve just about any manufacturing environment.


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