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Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing addresses a significant issue that can impact any MEP Contractor: Waste. Not taking full advantage of all your resources stunts efficiencies and, in so doing, interferes with production. These neglected resources include everything from manufacturing tools and processes to worker skills.

The Construction Industry is, of course, rife with waste and issues related to loss of productivity. Whether it is idle jobsite workers or unused materials that cannot be recycled or repurposed, the results are the same: a drag on productivity and skyrocketing costs. This fundamental driver to eliminate waste is where the idea of lean as a management philosophy and system prospered.

Lean manufacturing principles can help any mechanical, electrical, and plumbing fabricator gain efficiencies and become more effective and competitive. This methodology has revolutionized industries and can benefit firms outside of manufacturing.


Overview of Lean Manufacturing 

In summary, Lean is a methodology for reducing waste within a manufacturing system without sacrificing productivity; furthermore, you will likely experience an increase in productivity as a natural byproduct with no additional input. “With that in mind with respect to value; lean methodologies drive out unnecessary waste bringing more value to both the fabricator and customer.”



The Toyota Production System championed Lean in the 1990s, which helped accelerate Toyota’s growth from a small player to one of the world’s most successful motor vehicle manufacturers worldwide.


Practicing Lean 

Lean consists of approaches and tools that help 1.) Identify and 2.) Eliminate Waste. Several issues can cause waste, so the goal is to be diligent in the discovery. Removing waste from any system will dramatically improve quality and production time while reducing costs.

A few examples of tools and methodologies include:

  • Value stream mapping
  • 5S (a workplace organization methodology)
  • Kanban boards (visualizes workflow)
  • Redesigning working cells
  • Multi-process handling


Lean Principles

Below are a few lean principles considered in achieving intended project goals:

  • Continuous improvement
  • Minimizing Waste
  • First-time quality perfection
  • Flexibility and automation
  • Visual control and production load-leveling and flow


The Toyota case study presents an argument that lean’s core Tennent is not in the tools, but reducing three types of Waste in Japanese terms:

  • Un-evenness (Mura)
  • Overburden (Muri)
  • Non-value-adding work (Muda)

By reducing these types of waste, lean helps increase productivity. In addition, it simplifies the operational structure to understand, perform, and manage the work environment.


Types of Waste in Lean Manufacturing

Waste is not a simple concept. For MEP contractors to make lean project management effective, waste is defined in three categories Mura, Muri, Muda:


Mura – waste due to fluctuations in demand or unevenness.

Examples: Periodic customer requests, adding new services and jobs

Muri – waste caused by doing too much or overburdened

Examples: Poor resource allocation, too many tasks, and switching tasks 

Muda – waste caused by non-value-adding work

Examples: Poor or broken processes 


There are three essential aspects of value to consider in your waste analysis of current activities that include:

(1) Work that adds real-time value for a customer; 

(2) Necessary Waste and supporting activities that add value; and 

(3) Unnecessary Waste, activities that don’t add value. 

Lean maximizes value, minimizes necessary waste, and eliminates all unnecessary waste.

Goals and Strategy of Lean Manufacturing 

Eliminating waste is mission-critical for lean project management, but the end goals can differ based on the stakeholder. The CEO may want to increase profit margins. The Fab Shop manager and others require better quality standards and customer satisfaction. These are all significant benefits for MEP Contractors to use lean manufacturing and lean principles to eliminate waste–improve quality, productivity, profits, and so forth.

Below are common goals for MEP Contractors:

  • Eliminating Waste – caused by rework, mistakes, resources,
  • Reducing Costs – by reducing wasted time, materials and labor on unnecessary activities. Overproduction also adds to storage and warehousing costs.
  • Reducing Time – MEP contractors must be able to meet accelerated schedules.
  • Improving Quality – Process improvements must be designed to increase the quality of the product delivered.


Lean Manufacturing Semantics 

In strategic terms, four different lean notions can be used, but there’s no restriction for others to exist:

  1. Being lean is a fixed state or goal
  2. Becoming lean as a continuous change process
  3. Doing lean or toolbox lean as a set of tools or methods
  4. Lean thinking is a philosophy


Pros and Cons of Lean Manufacturing

Like any methodology, there are benefits and detriments to lean manufacturing. Some individuals criticize not lean itself but how people implement it, which can vary greatly. This is a significant issue for MEP Contractors because there so many variables and approaches. “For example, failures can focus on methodologies and tools rather than on the culture and philosophy of lean. Some say, implementing lean is not a la carte option but a systematic approach.


Justifying Lean Manufacturing 

Leadership is crucial for successfully implementing and adopting lean manufacturing. If they decide to implement lean without first consulting with its employees, this could be a failing point and another example of “waste.” It’s essential for leaders to identify and understand the real problems to address and collaborate with all stakeholders.

You must implement lean processes thoughtfully. If you increase efficiencies and create more products than you can sell, you’ve created waste. Therefore, you want to have a balanced economy where your productivity meets your customers’ demands, with no undercuts or overstocks.


Lean Manufacturing Saves Time & Money

The advantage of lean manufacturing is that it saves time and cost for MEP Contractors. Your organization and its projects will achieve efficiencies through better resource allocation & increased production. A balanced approach for employee task management, a great business advantage—the less time needed to finish a task, the more value can be passed on to customers.

Lean manufacturing can also be eco-friendly in reducing costs of energy and fuel. Investments in more energy-efficient equipment create savings and eliminates waste as well as improves the environment.


Measure and Report Your Progress

To improve processes, another fundamental for lean, you need data to track productivity. How are your processes performing? Are they meeting your planned expectations? To measure this, MSUITE offers solutions to help manage and track your critical KPIs and provide predictive recommendations for process improvement.


How Technology Helps with Lean Manufacturing

In summation, lean manufacturing methodologies emphasize flexibility and constant improvement of processes for greater efficiency. Using technology like MSUITE helps connect all stakeholders – Design, Fab, and Field, on projects. It offers better collaboration, communication, and tracking of activities throughout the project lifecycle.

Author: Nick Krey, Solution Consultant, U.S. CAD

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