Lean manufacturing can help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) reduce waste, save money and enhance their operations, but it’s important to have a thorough understanding of the principles of this strategy to ensure you can execute it properly. Proper strategy and execution are key. Much like you wouldn’t attempt to bake a cake without a recipe, it’s critical to understanding the strategic steps required to ensure success in lean manufacturing initiatives.

Lean manufacturing is built on five principles that serve as a guide for implementing virtually any lean process, according to the Lean Enterprise Institute. When you understand these steps, you can more effectively put them to work in your factory and reap the sweet rewards.

1. Identify value in the eye of the consumer
No matter what your factory produces, it cannot find success without happy customers at the end of the supply chain. The first step toward going lean is to identify what value you are offering your customer base. Lean Manufacturing Tools gives the example of someone buying a computer with the intent of using the internet. In this case, the value of owning the computer rests in the machine’s ability to function online. The value is not the hardware and software by itself. Of course the hardware and software are essential to delivering the value of internet access. Cardiff University points out that once you identify value and how it’s delivered you can consider the rest to be waste and find ways to eliminate it.

2. Identify and map the value stream
Once you know what you have to provide your customer, you need to determine the value stream, which is the start-to-finish production of the value delivering product you’re creating. Specifically, it encompasses every step of the process that has a connection to the end value. The key to successfully mapping the value stream is isolating those steps unnecessary to delivering value so you can eliminate them, and further reduce waste. In many cases, manufacturers find that less than 10% of their processes are actually providing real value to the customer, while the rest are creating disruptions and delays.

3. Create a flow
All that should remain after mapping the value stream are the steps that add to that end value. This is your opportunity to really streamline processes and tighten up any loose ends. This third principle is focused on smoothing out the production process. Eliminating bumps in the road that waste time, money or worker effort enhances factory efficiency, empowering you to increase output without sacrificing quality, and actually improving it. In the event there are steps in the process that do not add value, but cannot be avoided or eliminated.

4. Pull value based on customer demand
Inventory management in extremely wasteful. Key to reducing this waste is implementing an inventory pull-system. Rather than using the traditional push-system; building set quantities of your products at set intervals, and letting the finished products take up space in your warehouse, a pull system empowers you to match production to customer demand. Pull systems are essentially on-demand; or built to actual order. This reduces on hand inventory of parts like fasteners and other class C components, yet insures parts are available to meet production requirements. Vendor managed inventory (VMI) programs are perfect pull systems.

5. Chase perfection
Once you begin to make lean changes, you’ll need to continually refine your processes as your production landscape transforms into a lean, mean manufacturing machine. Cardiff University points out that when you begin removing wasteful processes, others that had previously been hidden can rise to the surface, so a continuous improvement initiative  is necessary to remain lean.