lean manufacturing processes

Lean Manufacturing History & Beginnings


The Industrial Revolution is largely viewed as taking place in the 18th and 19th centuries.  While it started in Britain in the late 1700s, it quickly spread into other areas of Europe and America as society transitioned from agrarian and rural to industrial and urban.

Over the next hundred years, inventors and engineers developed revolutionary products. Many of these products still impact us today:

  • the coffee pot (1806)
  • Robert Fulton's steamboat (1807)
  • the electromagnetic motor (1830)
  • the first power tools (1837)
  • the first oil well (1857)
  • the first oil pipeline (1864)

However, in the late 1890s, industrial engineers began considering questions about the combination of manufacturing processes and mass production. This is when the birth of lean manufacturing occurred.

The Birth of Lean Manufacturing

While the concepts of lean manufacturing are much different today than in the early 1900s, there is no doubt that the seed for today’s lean manufacturing processes was planted by the early industrial engineers.  Many consider the most influential of these engineers to be Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. 

At the time of its founding in 1903, the Ford Motor Company was just 1 of 88 car companies in the United States.  While all of the other companies viewed automobiles as luxury items, Henry Ford had a different perspective.  Ford’s true stroke of genius was in realizing that cars could be produced more efficiently, making them more affordable for the general public.

Ford implemented a system in which the critical elements of manufacturing — including the people, machines, tooling and products — were arranged in a continuous assembly line.  This system enabled the Ford Motor Company to deliver over fifteen million Model T cars during a nineteen year production run.  Due to these accomplishments, many people consider Henry Ford the first to implement lean manufacturing principles. 

Overcoming Weaknesses and Establishing Lean Manufacturing

Despite all his successes, Ford’s system also had several notable weaknesses.  For one, the system was designed to produce a single end product with no variability.  As a result, the Ford manufacturing system did not easily allow for the ability to change models or customize a car with options as simple as color.  Alfred Sloan of General Motors recognized this weakness and made modifications to Ford’s system to allow for larger scale manufacturing and variety.  

The Toyota Motor Company also studied the Ford production methods and identified areas of improvement.  Toyota combined Ford’s production methods with the practices of Statistical Quality Control to develop the Just In Time production system, later called the Toyota Production System (TPS).

In particular, Toyota began looking at workers as more than just laborers and instead viewed them as integral parts of the process.  Toyota began to incorporate aspects of team development and cellular manufacturing — arranging work stations and equipment in sequence to ensure a smooth flow through the production process.  Making these changes allowed Toyota to start producing in small quantities and with much more variation.

The evolution of automobile production processes was chronicled in James Womack’s 1990 book “The Machine That Changed the World.”  With little idea of his impact at the time, Womack christened these processes into a single term: “lean manufacturing.”

The Evolution of Lean Manufacturing Principles

From 1990 to today, the concepts of lean manufacturing have continued to develop.  Specifically, lean manufacturing principles are those that seek to minimize waste during the manufacturing process. More broadly, lean manufacturing now encompasses any technique or process that enables a process to run more efficiently. 

Much like the original statistical quality processes that formed the foundation for the Toyota Production System, today’s lean manufacturing processes often integrate current quality control principles such as Six Sigma.  For this reason, eliminating waste and improving quality often go hand-in-hand in lean manufacturing best practices.

As lean concepts continue to develop, lean tools and techniques are being extended beyond manufacturing.  Managers and corporate leaders are applying lean concepts in healthcare, retail, logistics and distribution, construction and many other industries — including the government. 

Lean tools and techniques take on many different forms, and they are partially dependent on the overall goals of the organization.  While some organizations focus solely on reducing the cost of production and increasing profit, others take a more customer-centric approach. 

In the latter case, lean manufacturing best practices are guided by the overarching objective that improvements are made for the sake of the customer.  In a customer-centric lean system, any production step or end product that does not meet customer demand or specifications is considered waste.  This notion of customer-based waste is considered to be the eighth waste of a production system that does not use lean manufacturing best practices.  Let’s take a look at the first seven.

Wastes in Lean Manufacturing

The primary goal of lean manufacturing is the elimination of waste.  Waste can be defined in different ways and at different stages of the production process. In addition to customer-based waste, lean tools and techniques are typically used to eliminate seven types of waste:

seven wastes of lean manufacturing





  • Transport - any movement of products not actually required to perform the production process.
  • Inventory - any component, subassembly, intermediate work or finished product that impedes the overall process.
  • Motion - the motion of people, products or equipment that are not necessary in the production process.
  • Waiting - any action or inaction that causes a delay in the production process.
  • Overproduction - producing more product than is necessary.
  • Over-processing - the wasteful steps in a production process resulting from poor tool or product design.
  • Defects - the waste associated with defects, including any extra efforts involved in finding and fixing product defects.

How a company chooses to address these wastes is what defines their own lean manufacturing process.  Despite variations from one company to another, lean manufacturing applications in all industries are guided by nine core principles.

9 Lean Manufacturing Principles

Lean manufacturing is not a specific set of steps to take or rules to follow.  Instead, lean manufacturing provides a framework — your company can develop and customize your own production systems in order to minimize the seven sources of waste.

Nine guiding principles are often used to evaluate the potential applications of lean manufacturing and how they positively impact a production process.  Used individually or collectively, the following principles help to address the sources of waste:


  • Continuous flow — strives to eliminate waste of movement and inventory by connecting sub-processes and ensuring a smooth production flow. The inventory enters as needed and leaves the line when completed.
  • Lean machines/simplicity — focuses on minimizing the design of machines and assembly workspaces in order to reduce space allocation and simplify the role of each machine or worker.  This helps to eliminate waste of movement, inventory, motion and over-processing.
  • Workplace organization — places an emphasis on improving the organizational aspects of a worker’s station including accessibility to tools and information.  Workplace organization is primarily focused on minimizing waste from unnecessary motion and waiting, but also has the benefit of improving quality and reducing defect waste.
  • Parts presentation — addresses the delivery lean manufof inventory to workstations as needed, reducing waste associated with transport, inventory, motion and waiting.
  • Reconfigurability — addresses the need to reconfigure a workstation quickly and efficiently to meet changing demands or to alleviate issues in the production process.  The primary benefit of reconfigurability is the reduction of downtime and waste.
  • Product quality — covers any quality assurance step or process designed to reduce defects in both the production process and the final product.
  • Maintainability — focuses on keeping the entire production system and individual workstations operating smoothly and efficiently, minimizing downtime.
  • Ease of Access  see below
  • Ergonomics — these two processes work together in the design of the production system to place parts and tools where needed, minimizing motion and downtime.  They also work together to ensure the worker is operating in an efficient and safe workplace.

With these guiding principles in mind, let’s take a look at how they could impact oil and gas industry trends.

The Role of Lean Manufacturing in the Oil and Gas Industry

Ever since the first oil well in 1857 and the first oil pipeline in 1864, the oil and gas industry has not only embraced innovation but has often led the way.  Rapid technological advances have enabled both the discovery and extraction of oil and gas in difficult environments — from the deserts of the Middle East, to deep water oil fields around the globe and finally to the harsh Arctic region.

With the recent focus on energy independence in the United States, as well as the added scrutiny that comes with it, lean manufacturing in the oil and gas industry is quickly becoming a necessity.

Oil and Gas Industry Overview

Oil and natural gas are naturally occurring substances in the Earth’s crust — the results of centuries of decay of plants and animals trapped in the layers of the Earth over time.  Because oil and gas are less dense than water, they gradually work their way through porous rocks and towards the Earth’s surface. They eventually collect into reservoirs. 

Once these reservoirs are found, a hole must be bored through the Earth’s upper crust and into the reservoir, allowing the extraction of the oil or gas.  This role of discovery and drilling is completed by the exploration and production (E&P) segment of the oil and gas industry. The drilling companies are supported by a large group of oil services and equipment providers.

Together, all of the companies that support the E&P segment play a critical role in providing oil in gas to the world in a safe and efficient manner — with minimal waste and impact to the environment.

Drilling and Its Effects on the Environment

The E&P process includes many different activities:




  • the construction of access roads and support facilities
  • ground clearing and grading
  • the drilling process
  • waste management
  • the downstream infrastructure necessary to get the extracted oil and gas into the energy system

All of these activities have the potential to impact the environment. As with any construction project, steps must be taken to avoid any adverse impact to both the natural environment and the surrounding communities. 

In particular, processes should be followed to minimize ground erosion and runoff, and control dust and other airborne contaminates. It’s also important to minimize noise from operations, and reduce the interference with the natural habitat including both plants and animals. 

Types of Drilling

types of oil drilling

Since the early days of the oil and gas industry, vertical drilling was the dominant method for drilling a well.  In vertical drilling, a drill head is attached to the end of a steel drill bit and additional drilling shafts are gradually added and fed down the wellbore.  A rotating drilling rig is used to drive the full assembly from the surface. 

While vertical drilling is the simplest of the drilling methods, its simplicity also leads to a higher rate of dry wells — those that don’t successfully hit the reservoir.  Within the last couple decades, the development of directional and horizontal drilling techniques has enabled E&P companies to dramatically increase their success rate.  As the name implies, directional drilling enables the operator to begin with a vertical well and then change directions to either an angled or horizontal bore in order to increase the chances of hitting the reservoir. 

Both vertical and directional drilling techniques can be applied to offshore drilling operations.  The primary difference with offshore drilling is the fact that the drilling rig is located on the surface of the water rather than on dry land.  Offshore rigs can either be fixed rigs — mounted on to pilings or columns connected to the ocean floor — or floating rigs.  Due to the uncertainty and occasional harshness of the ocean environment, offshore drilling adds a noticeable level of complexity and risk to the drilling operation. 

Extraction Methods

Once the exploratory phase is over and a wellbore has been successfully drilled to the reservoir, the process of extraction begins.  The easiest extraction method occurs naturally. It takes advantage of the pressure in the well to drive the oil and gas to the surface.  When the pressure is insufficient or dissipates over time, E&P companies may employ pumps to artificially lift the resources to the surface.

When pumping doesn’t work, other techniques may be applied.  These techniques include pumping water down the well to force the oil up or using chemicals or pressurized fluids to fracture the rock formations.  In particular, hydraulic fracturing has become the enabling technology behind the U.S. shale gas boom.

Applications of Lean Manufacturing to the Oil and Gas Industry

Due to the specialized nature of the oil and gas industry and the uniqueness of each individual drilling project, many suppliers develop engineer-to-order (ETO) products.  E&P service providers often design products to unique specifications, with long delivery times and extended maintenance responsibilities for the life of the product. The non-repetitive nature of these services appears contrary to the fundamental objectives of lean manufacturing, but that’s not necessarily the case.

The oil and gas industry — and the E&P segment in particular — is ultimately a process involving a collection of many other processes that come together to take an E&P project from initial exploration to extraction.  Every construction process, every ETO product and every E&P service has the potential to implement a lean manufacturing process.

With the increased scrutiny on E&P projects like hydraulic fracturing and downstream operations like the Keystone Pipeline, the time has never been better for the oil and gas industry to embrace lean manufacturing. 

environmental protection agency

These two lean manufacturing byproducts often complement the EPA objectives of environmental management and pollution prevention. 

Integrate Lean Manufacturing Tools Into Your System

If you’re an E&P company looking to start or continue integrating lean tools and techniques into your system, there’s no better place to start than with service providers that have already made the leap. 

Global Elastomeric Products, Inc. has been supplying the oil services industry with high-quality rubber products for over 50 years.  As an ISO 9001:2008 registered company, Global Elastomeric Products has the distinction of having a streamlined customer-to-manufacturing-to-customer process. We continue to invest in state-of-the-art injection machines, paint robotics, and manufacturing and enterprise resource planning systems to efficiently complete and deliver projects of any size. 

For more information on how Global Elastomeric Products can help make your next project leaner, take a look at our specialized rubber products.

Contact us to discuss your project today.





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Global Elastomeric Products, Inc.

Main Phone: (661) 831-5380 
5551 District Blvd.
Bakersfield, CA 93313