After a slight rebound in July, French industrial production is now struggling to regain its pre-crisis level of growth with an increase of only 1.3% in the fourth quarter. With the exception of the food-processing industry, the other sectors are particularly fragile and exposed, manufacturers must therefore produce more efficiently. The best way is to put the 7 wastes in focus.

Lean manufacturing is a method for optimizing industrial performance that is particularly well suited to this context, which aims to better meet the requirements of cost-quality-delivery. It is a question of analyzing in a detailed way the various stages that make up the production process and then, to drive out all the wastes identified throughout the manufacturing process allowing then to be more efficient and more profitable.

Lean manufacturing is therefore based on the elimination of Waste (or Muda) within the production process. But what are these different wastes? What impact do they have on your profitability? How can this waste be eliminated? We will try to answer them in this article by identifying them and suggesting ways of improvement.

What is waste in Lean?

It’s very simple, waste is defined as an activity that the customer is not willing to pay for and/or that adds no value to the process. They are known and accepted by everyone out of habit or fear of change.

Studies show that only 5% of the time allocated to the creation of a product is actually value-added, the rest represents tasks that involve more labor, materials or space but do not enhance its value. It is therefore more than necessary to focus on reducing or eliminating waste in order to produce more efficiently.

It is through a waste chase that your processes will become more value-added, allowing you to identify opportunities to improve your overall performance.

The 7 traditional wastes of Lean

Here are the seven wastes, highlighted by Taiichi Ohno (Engineer at Toyota and father of the Toyota production system).

Unnecessary movements

Moving doesn’t necessarily mean working or doing your job well, unnecessary travel is wasteful and does not bring any added value to the customer. Taking the last pieces from the bottom of a pallet, bypassing an obstacle or looking for a misfiled document are rarely compatible with the notion of performance.

Who hasn’t already been confronted with a maintenance technician arriving on a breakdown with an incomplete toolbox, leading to unnecessary back and forth trips or even a production line stoppage?

The solution ? Observe your operator stations and produce in a 5S environment, it will avoid loss of time, waste of energy and even potential injuries.

Waiting time

Waiting like everyone else you experience it every day, waiting in traffic jams, waiting for a courier, waiting for an answer… In the factory waiting time is often caused by waiting for materials to arrive, for proper instructions to start manufacturing or for equipment with insufficient capacity.

To compensate for this set of non-value-added time, tools exist, such as the TPM method (Total Productive Maintenance) or the SMED method (rapid tool change). But you can also use standardized work instructions and train versatile and flexible workers who can quickly adapt to the demands of the job. This could reduce your waiting time by up to 50%!

The non-quality

In 2017, AFNOR carried out a study on the costs of non-quality in industry. This study showed that among the two thirds of the companies reporting a measure of non-quality costs, losses related to non-quality are in the order of 5% of turnover. Thus by focusing on non-quality issues, companies could recover 5 to 10% of their turnover.

This waste has a strong impact on customer satisfaction and can lead to costs. Observing that a product is of poor quality may, for example, require the mobilization of additional manpower (temporary workers) for a given period of time in order to respond to customer problems.

Here again, producing in a 5S environment and the use of coding systems (Poka-Yoke) are interesting progress levers to eliminate retouching and rejects.


The overproduction consists in producing in an excessive way compared to the real customer order. This anticipation is often motivated by the fear of missing and not being able to meet the eventual demand.

But rather than producing products just in time according to the “Just In Time” philosophy, the “Just In Case” working method raises many problems, resulting in unnecessary production time, storage costs and raw material expenses.

Production in pull flow based on customer needs (kanban), in continuous flow (takt time) or training your staff are all solutions to remedy this waste.

Unnecessary stocks

Stock is money asleep! Often linked to the notion of overproduction or poor planning, this waste leads to financial immobilization and loss of storage space. In another context, it could correspond to an accumulation of emails or invoices.

Among the measures to be taken to alleviate this problem are: purchasing raw materials only when necessary and in sufficient quantities, reducing buffer zones and creating a queuing system to avoid overproduction.

Unnecessary operations

You will also find this type of waste in your daily life when, before going on the road for a well-deserved vacation, you check several times to make sure that the doors and gas are properly closed. In the factory, this waste corresponds to any action or task that does not bring any added value to the customer.

Routine, the tradition of the trade reveal operations that the product does not require or no longer requires. An analysis of each operation carried out can highlight this type of waste. Here is a list of examples: Too much quality control on a part during its manufacturing process, placing covers before painting operations, removal of excess material before the operation on the machine tool is completed.

Unnecessary transportation

This concerns the unnecessary transport of materials, parts, products, documents or information. This waste can be due to bad habits or poor workstation organization.

A solution ? The creation of a U-cell! Indeed, a workshop with a U-shaped configuration will gather resources in order to perform different operations on the same part within the cell. This considerably reduces transport and waiting times between machines.

For some time now, along with the 7 traditional wastes, an eighth has been increasingly cited.

The under-utilization of employees’ skills

This waste is quite unknown because it does not appear in the Toyota production system. However, it is obvious that by not calling on the skills of its employees, working on the front line, it becomes difficult to improve processes.

Your employees in the field are in fact the most capable of detecting problems and providing solutions, so they play a significant role in your continuous improvement process.

The notion of waste is important because it will be the driving force behind your Lean approach. In fact, it is through the simple observation of these different types of waste that the entire production system at Toyota was created. It is estimated that a company that has not implemented a Lean approach spends less than 20% on adding value. Imagine that the rest of the time is distributed among the 7 wastes. Companies with a certain level of Lean maturity spend 80% on added value. So, are you ready to take the plunge?

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