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Effective Waste Elimination With Lean Principles

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Businesses are constantly seeking to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and optimise operations – and Lean strategies serve as a powerful tool to achieve these goals.


Waste elimination is a core tenet of Lean methodology, focusing on enhancing process efficiency and overall business optimisation. This article will explore Lean waste elimination, identify the Seven Wastes, unpack waste elimination strategies, and examine successful case studies.


Waste Elimination With Lean Principles

Identifying the seven wastes


Before discussing waste elimination strategies, it’s essential to understand what ‘waste’ means in the context of Lean principles.


In essence, waste refers to any activity or resource that does not add value to the end product or service. There are seven types of waste (referred to as the “Seven Wastes”), which serve as a framework to identify and categorise non-value-added activities:


  • Overproduction: Producing more goods or services than demanded at a given time can result in excess inventory, storage costs, and product obsolescence.

  • Inventory: Excessively stockpiling materials, products, or information can tie up capital and lead to waste due to damage, spoilage, or obsolescence.

  • Transportation: Unnecessarily moving of materials, products, or information consumes time and resources and increases the risk of damage or loss.

  • Motion: Wasteful movements of people or equipment can lead to inefficiencies, errors, and safety hazards.

  • Waiting: Idle time or delays in a process due to waiting for materials, instructions, or approvals can slow production and reduce overall efficiency.

  • Overprocessing: Adding more features, steps, or complexity to a product or service than required can increase costs and cycle times.

  • Defects: Producing products or delivering services that do not meet customer requirements leads to rework, scrap, and customer dissatisfaction.


Waste elimination strategies


Once you’ve identified the Seven Wastes in your organisation, the next step is to implement waste elimination strategies:


  • Just-in-Time (JIT) production aims to manufacture goods or services in the right quantity, at the right time, with minimal waste. Synchronising production with customer demand can reduce overproduction and excess inventory.

  • The 5S Lean methodology (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise, Sustain) focuses on organising the workplace for efficiency and cleanliness to reduce movement, waiting, and defects.

  • Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a visual tool to analyse and optimise the entire process flow, from raw materials to the customer. It identifies areas of waste and helps redesign processes for improved efficiency.

  • Kaizen initiates Continuous Improvement through small, incremental changes. Kaizen encourages employees at all levels to identify and eliminate waste in their daily work.

  • Poka-Yoke (error-proofing) aims to prevent defects by designing processes or systems in a way that makes errors impossible or highly unlikely.

  • Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) focuses on maximising equipment uptime and reliability to reduce downtime and defects caused by equipment failures.

  • Kanban Systems is a visual tool that helps control inventory levels and streamline production by signalling when and what to produce or replenish.


Case study - Successful waste reduction

Case study: Successful waste reduction


To illustrate the effectiveness of Lean principles in waste elimination, let’s examine a real-world case study of successful waste reduction.


A large multinational company specialises in fibre-based packaging and pulp production. The organisation operates four Italian plants dedicated to manufacturing custom corrugated boxes for products like fruit and vegetables, poultry, and industrial applications.


One plant spans 30,000 square metres and employs approximately 170 people, with an annual production capacity of 150 million square metres of cardboard.


The production process involves:


  • Raw materials warehouse where paper reels, after undergoing quality control, are stored in two separate warehouses.

  • A corrugator unit responsible for creating corrugated cardboard sheets. It includes a production line for preheating the paper, corrugating it, glueing layers, dehumidifying, and cutting continuous cardboard strips. A pulping department within processes waste paper for minimal profit.

  • A WIP unit between the corrugator and the cardboard box machine, sorting cardboard sheets into seven lines.

  • A 6,500 square metre box factory that houses seven production lines dedicated to manufacturing cardboard boxes.


The organisation implemented a Lean production approach in 2020, aiming to reduce waste by 0.75% in 2021. The approach was based on the PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act), and they used data collection, flow diagrams, Pareto charts, and Fishbone diagrams to identify waste and areas for improvement. They primarily focused on the corrugator cardboard manufacturing line, where the highest waste levels were observed.


Key causes of waste were downtime, peel, and paper residue. Downtime was attributed to recurring defects and blocks in the corrugator machine, mainly caused by employee errors during couplings.


The organisation worked with their corrugator unit employees to identify potential solutions based on cost-effectiveness, effectiveness, reliability, and technical complexity. To implement these solutions, they introduced root cause analysis, new breakdown reporting, improved maintenance planning, employee empowerment, and training meetings.


The results of their actions were analysed, showing a decrease in downtime related to breaking paper. So, they then standardised these improvement measures to establish best practices for error-free and waste-free activities.


Lean management resulted in a significant reduction in waste and costs. The improvements enhanced the company’s competitive position and aligned with its sustainability goals, emphasising responsible production practices and environmental protection.


Learn more about effective waste elimination


Lean principles are vital to achieve process efficiency and business optimisation. By identifying and addressing the Seven Wastes, implementing Lean waste elimination strategies, and learning from successful case studies, organisations can unlock substantial cost savings, improve quality, and deliver greater value to their customers.


Embracing Lean principles is not just a choice but a necessity for those looking to thrive in an increasingly demanding and competitive market.


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