Lean Manufacturing & Lead Time

Finding ways to improve your manufacturing facility can be difficult, but it is well worth the effort. There are many different strategies out there to consider. Cutting back on lead time is one of the best things that any company can do to cut out waste, get products to customers faster, and improve overall service. Understanding how lean manufacturing and lead time work together is extremely important for developing a good system that can benefit your entire facility.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is a system that attempts to eliminate as much waste from a facility as possible. It breaks waste down into different categories so that you can identify it throughout the production area and find ways to eliminate it. Waste does not just mean trash or other items that you throw away. Instead, it could be anything from wasted time to wasted space. Of course, physical waste is also going to be factored in.

One simple definition of waste when it comes to lean manufacturing is anything that does not add value to the customer. If customers aren’t willing to pay for it, then it is not contributing to the bottom line of the company and should therefore be eliminated whenever possible.

What is Lead Time?

Any time from the point where a customer places an order to the time where it is sent to them is considered lead time. While the steps that are taken during lead time are critical, it is best to keep them as short as possible without sacrificing on the quality of the products.

When looking at lead time from a lean manufacturing perspective, it is good to streamline the entire process as much as possible. There are often many different types of waste that are unique to the various steps involved. Learning about each step and watching for different types of waste will help to reduce lead time and minimize waste throughout the production process.

Types of Waste to Watch for with Lead Time

Looking at everything that takes place during lead time in your facility will help you to find various types of waste so that it can be eliminated. This will help you to improve the overall production process and get the most out of your facility. For many companies, focusing on lead time can be one of the best steps that is taken in terms of improving lean manufacturing.

To accomplish this, you can look at each of the different types of waste that are typically associated with lean manufacturing. The following are some of the most common types of waste that are discovered in the lead time process. Looking closely at these categories of waste and figuring out if it exists in your facility will help you to get the best results.


Overproduction doesn’t mean making to much of something, but rather making it with too many features or other things that the customer won’t pay for. When ordering parts for a new job, for example, you want to make sure that you are purchasing them of the quality and type that your customer demands. If you are paying extra for a higher quality part that the customer does not need, that is actually wasteful.

Of course, if your customers do demand the higher quality options, then you need to order them to meet their needs. When it comes to looking at the quality, the features, and other similar things with manufacturing, it all comes down do what your customers are willing to pay for.


Waiting is often one of the biggest forms of waste in a facility. If you have a customer who places an order but your employees and machinery can’t start working until specific parts arrive, that can be quite wasteful. This type of waste extends the lead time significantly and also causes your facility to not be operating at full capacity until everything arrives.

Look for ways that you do not have people or machinery doing nothing once an order comes in. This may mean having some inventory for certain parts ready to go, or working with suppliers to get them to you more quickly. Every situation will be unique, but finding the best way to eliminate the waiting that is common during lead time can be very helpful.

Non-Utilized Talent

Some facilities will have employees stepping in to complete the initial tasks after an order comes in. If they are paid at a higher rate because their main job does not involve the front-line activities, you are not utilizing their talent while they are doing this work.

While good workers are always happy to step in where they are needed, it is better if their talents are being fully utilized at all times. Make sure you have the right people assigned to the right tasks throughout the manufacturing process to help avoid this type of waste.


The various parts and materials needed for completing a job will have to be transported to where they are going, but without proper planning, they will be sent to unnecessary locations. To the extent possible, make sure that everything is completed in the same place so that you are not shipping things multiple times. Excess transportation can be very costly, which is a major form of waste.

Inventory Excess

Ordering to much inventory or keeping it all on site when you aren’t using it can be very wasteful. If you have these items kept in your facility when they are not yet needed, they may never actually get used. If a product changes or customers don’t need something anymore, you end up stuck with the various parts.

The same can be said of completed products. While creating products ahead of time may seem like a smart way to reduce lead time, it comes with significant risks. You do not want to be left with outdated or not-needed items that you cannot sell or you need to sell at a discount.


Having people or materials moved around unnecessarily is a type of waste that is often overlooked. Look through your facility and try to make sure that every step in the production line flows from one spot to the next with as little extra movement as possible.

You do not want to have to take parts from one side of the facility to another, only to bring them back again for the next step. Finding the most efficient configuration of people, machinery, inventory, and other essential items will help to minimize the motion so you can maximize efficiency.

Not a One Time Thing

Many facilities that go through looking for waste and eliminating it to help streamline the lead time process make great strides to improve their operations. While that is a very good thing, of course, the job of improving efficiency is never done.

As part of your overall lean manufacturing strategy, it is important to come back to every task that is done in your facility and look for new ways to improve it on a regular basis. Even if you have made major improvements today, there may be additional opportunities in another month.

Lean strategies tend to build on themselves so that even things that you once thought were being done extremely well can have improvements made to them. This is typically possible because you make other changes at other points in the production process, which makes new strategies possible throughout the organization.

Bring Everyone Into Lean Manufacturing

Another way that you can make improvements to your production process is by getting more people to look for the various types of waste. Even if you believe that you have optimized your lead time steps, one of your employees might be aware of a specific type of waste that you have overlooked.

Lean strategies should never be seen as a single person goal. Instead, making sure that everyone in the facility understands what lean means and is empowered to come up with improvement opportunities. Whether this is done by soliciting ideas from people in the facility on a regular basis, or forming process improvement groups to address specific tasks, you can always make continuous improvements when everyone on the team is taking part.

Training for Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is an essential concept when it comes to lean manufacturing. It is not, however, something that comes naturally to every employee. If not asked to watch for ways to improve their job, many people would be satisfied completing things in the same way that they have always been done.

This is why you should provide intentional training to all your employees on how they can look for waste in their job and what they can do to try to get it eliminated. Empowering everyone to make meaningful changes that will not only improve the lead time for the company, but also make their own jobs easier and more rewarding.

In the end, optimizing your lean manufacturing and lead time strategies will help the bottom line, improve job satisfaction, and of course, benefit your customers.


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