Get Lean: Adopting Manufacturing Tech Leads to Lean Manufacturing Naturally

The “Toyota Way” is not a street in Cambridge, Ontario, that leads to the automaker’s Canadian manufacturing facility. It’s a set of corporate and cultural practices that the Toyota Motor Corporation uses to define how the company wants to run and how it wants its employees to work.

The guide was presented as a pamphlet in 2001 to collect Toyota’s organizational aspirations (and the Toyota Production System) in one document. This formed the basis of Jeffrey Liker’s famous 2004 book The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. In the years since, many books, seminars, and training events have turned this way of manufacturing into its own cottage industry.

Today, when we think about this system in generic terms, we think of lean manufacturing.

The Influence of the Toyota Way on Lean Manufacturing

The 14 principles of the Toyota Way are divided into two groups: continuous improvement and developing human resources.

These principles include:

  • Play the long game – Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals;
  • Make it easier for your employees to do their jobs – Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment;
  • Eliminate waste (muda) using continuous improvement (kaizen) – Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface;
  • Eliminate waste in your supply chain – Use pull systems to avoid overproduction;
  • Quality is what you sell – Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time; and
  • Identify leaders in every department – Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.

Get Lean Using Technology

Terminology and edicts support your big-picture thinking, but investment in new, advanced technology must be part of your journey toward lean manufacturing. In fact, by installing new manufacturing equipment, you automatically get leaner.  To learn about the basics of lean manufacturing, read the first blog in this series, Lean Manufacturing in 2023: A General Review.

An example of this is a chip-processing system. These systems, such as chip centrifuges and briquettes, are used in the downstream recovery of metalworking fluids from scrap. They reduce waste by recycling metalworking fluids and reduce the space needed for chip storage.

Major technological innovations in recent years also have pushed lean implementation forward by making manufacturers more efficient, more productive, and more data centric. Here are four examples of this technology:

1. Automation. The skills gap and related labour shortage means automation is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Robots, cobots (collaborative robots), pallet changers, and even automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) now are a must-have for manufacturers.

Automation helps reduce wait time and nonproductive machine time and increases productivity. These systems fit very well with lean principles.

2. Machine monitoring. Data collected from manufacturing equipment, including temperature, spindle load, power consumption, and spindle up-time, helps manufacturers track cycle time but also overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), non-productive time, and other key performance indicators (KPI).

With so much data available, it’s also necessary to create custom, easy-to-read dashboards to track your current progress and review historical information.

By monitoring the status of machines, a baseline can be created, tracked, and then dissected to find ways to improve.

3. Digital transformation. It’s best to take baby steps with your digital transformation strategy. Understanding the value of digital twins is a good place to start. Digital twins enable simulation of machining processes without needing to take a piece of equipment off-line. This helps to ensure that your part—and your part quality—is right the first time. This can help you work better with machines in your own shop and in different plants that you own, and with partner shops and clients elsewhere in the world.

4. Sustainable technology and practices. This may seem out of place among other key factors in lean implementation. Increasingly, customers, especially those at the top of the manufacturing food chain, ask about sustainability. You need to have a more comprehensive response than switching to an environmentally friendly coolant. If it matters to them, it should matter to you.

Importance of Having a Lean Sustainability Plan

Having a sustainability plan will help you reduce waste in every department of your business. Your sustainability plan guides you to automatically look for waste reduction options in all areas of your operation.

Software tools like enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution system (MES), product lifecycle management (PLM), and computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) are all good tools that connect sustainability, manufacturing, and lean management.

How to Leverage Government Funding to Improve a Manufacturing Business?

Canadian manufacturers can take advantage of a variety of funding programs and opportunities. However, the process of identifying government funding programs is only the first step. Once your business has this information, it must align relevant projects and strategic spends, then develop and submit a detailed application. 

Manufacturers often need to improve their machinery and processes. As the world becomes more technologically advanced, there are new and innovative ways for manufacturers to do more with less. One of these approaches is to implement a Lean Manufacturing approach. For a general overviews of this methodology, please read article #1 in this series, Lean Manufacturing in 2023: A General Review

This article was written in collaboration with Joe Thompson, Editor at Canadian Metalworking, to highlight industry-leading market insights and address challenges facing Canadian manufacturing businesses.

Joe Thompson is the Editor of Canadian Metalworking, 1154 Warden Ave., Suite #416, Toronto M1R 0A1, 905-315-8226,

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