17th Oct 2023

How to apply lean manufacturing principles to process filtration

Since Toyota solidified its core principles in the early 20th century, lean manufacturing has become one of the most popular production methodologies in the world.

Organisations in a diverse array of industries rely on the lean principles to raise the quality of their products, optimise their processes, cut costs, and reduce waste. It also helps eco-conscious manufacturers operate more sustainably. But how do those principles translate to filtration?

What is lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing, also known as lean production, is a methodology that focuses on maximising quality and productivity while minimising waste.

Waste typically refers to anything that doesn’t add value to the customer. The eight most common causes of waste, according to the lean methodology, are:

  1. Excess inventory
  2. Overproduction
  3. Over-processing
  4. Product defects
  5. Idle people or equipment
  6. Unnecessary motion (people, equipment, machinery)
  7. Unnecessary transportation
  8. Unused talent or ingenuity

The 5 core principles of lean manufacturing and how to apply them to filtration

Lean manufacturing is built around five core principles. These are designed to help you identify causes of waste, so you can take positive steps to remedy them. In filtration, this includes things like replacing unsuitable filter media with more appropriate alternatives or working with filter suppliers to ensure your filters are the right size for your processes.

1. Define value

The first principle is about determining what value means from the customer’s perspective, and how much they’re willing to pay for your products. This largely depends on the product or application. In the context of filtration, value refers to any aspect of the process that helps you meet the customer’s needs. For example, maintaining product quality is essential for pharmaceutical production, but less important in low-spec products, like coat hangers.

Knowing how much your product’s worth to customers enables you to market your product at the optimal price for maximum profit.

How to apply the principle to filtration

  • Engage with your customers to understand what they value most in your products. Is it purity? Longevity? Price?
  • Identify the essential parameters and functions your process must fulfil to meet customer needs. For example, contamination retention capacity or particle size removal.
  • Identify and remove elements that don’t add value, such as redundant steps in your filtration processes, and streamline your filtration system to match.
  • Continuously monitor customer feedback to identify areas you can improve.

2. Map the value stream

Having established your products’ value, principle two encourages you to visualise the entire production journey – from inception to delivery. This helps you identify the activities that contribute to your product’s value and those that don’t.

When mapping the value stream in filtration processes, focus on the time it takes to complete, and the resources you use at each stage. Viewing your filtration processes holistically makes it easier to spot inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and causes of waste.

How to apply the principle to filtration

  • Map the current state of your value stream to spot potential bottlenecks and causes of waste, such as excess inventory.
  • Analyse each step of your processes to determine if they add value.
  • Measure the time and resources you use at each step to get a clearer picture of your current lead times and where you must improve.
  • Review and improve any hand-off points to ensure smooth transitions and effective communication through each stage of your process.
  • Create a future state map outlining the process improvements you’d make to enhance your value stream.

In an industry dominated by replaceable products, we need to work hard to improve sustainability. Explore the challenges in our latest guide.

3. Create flow

Efficiency is the key to delivering high-quality products quickly and at scale. To ensure your processes run as smoothly as possible, the third principle of lean manufacturing encourages you to remove any barriers in your processes that can cause delays and disruption. Seamless workflows help to improve lead times without sacrificing product quality.

How to apply the principle to filtration

  • Identify and eliminate any equipment or stages that cause bottlenecks in your filtration processes.
  • Adjust capacity and work allocation to balance workloads throughout your processes.
  • Minimise batch sizes to enable quicker processing and detect quality issues earlier.
  • Reduce unnecessary handling and transport of materials to minimise delays.
  • Standardise processes to reduce errors and variations.

4. Establish a pull system

Pull systems ensure production always aligns with demand. Unlike push systems, which produce inventory based on often unreliable or inaccurate forecasts, in pull systems, you create products in response to real-time customer demand.

Aside from greater flexibility, pull systems help you avoid the perennial issue of over or under-stocking.

How to apply the principle to filtration

  • Calculate your Takt time (the minimum production rate required to meet demand) to set the pace for your filtration processes.
  • Initiate a signal system that automatically triggers production in response to demand. For example, when you receive an order or create a Kanban card for a new task.
  • Stock only the inventory you need to meet current demand to avoid stockpiling.
  • Implement flexible filtration rates that allow you to adjust your processes in line with demand and respond quickly to requests.
  • Ensure your suppliers also use a pull system, to prevent overproduction of raw materials and surplus inventory build-up.

5. Pursue perfection

The concept of continuous improvement, or Kaizen, lies at the heart of the lean manufacturing methodology. Rather than resting on your laurels, Kaizen urges you to strive for protection. To do this, you must regularly review your processes to see what you do well and, more importantly, where you can improve.

By constantly re-evaluating and refining your filtration processes, you can identify and treat the root cause of issues, rather than focusing on the symptoms.

How to apply the principle to filtration

  • Set clear goals based on key performance indicators (KPIs), such as process efficiency, lead times, and waste.
  • Measure and analyse performance over time to identify areas you can improve.
  • Create a work environment that encourages employees to try new ideas, technologies, and approaches – and rewards them for doing so.
  • Foster collaboration and knowledge sharing across departments.
  • Regularly review and update your processes to align them with your business goals, customer needs, best practices, and technological advancements.

Lean manufacturing and the drive for sustainable filtration

As the climate crisis intensifies, manufacturers are under intense scrutiny to reduce their carbon footprints. And for many, that begins with filtration.

By helping organisations find innovative ways to reduce waste and do more with what they have, lean manufacturing is the perfect methodology to support companies in creating more sustainable filtration solutions and processes.

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