Andrew Bradbury, Tutor of the Lean Manufacturing Operative apprenticeship explains why, more than ever, with the pressures the global pandemic has presented in squeezing the bottom line, it’s critical for businesses to follow Lean principles, while looking to technology for the solutions.


Lean Manufacturing was first officially championed as a production model in the 1930s by Toyota, with the key principles of ‘Lean’ being defined in the 1990s by ‘Womack and Jones’ comprising five principles: Value, The Value Stream, Flow, Pull and Perfection’*.

Although the face of manufacturing is unrecognisable from its inception 90 years previously, the Lean principles are as relevant today as they were back in the 1930s. They provide an operating blueprint which effectively reduce room for error, by instilling best practice principles. Widely adopted problem solving methods, such as ‘Kaizen’ – a continuous improvement approach, and the ‘A3 Method’ of systematic problem solving are evidence of this.


So how do the lean principles apply to a modern workforce and what should industries be considering in streamlining and getting the most from their operation?

Adoption of technology is unquestionably the overriding way forward. Digital technologies will be at the forefront of minds as industries return to a full capacity output. Digital systems adoption will invariably impact beyond direct production, it can help with Covid-19 safety and compliance such as health and safety on the shop floor, and remote collaboration through systems such a ‘Microsoft Teams’. Industry progression can occur without huge investments, but it is worth thinking about whether your organisation can do more in the areas of connectivity, data and computational power, analytics and intelligence and human-machine interface.


  • Digtalisation beyond the business walls – value chain planning, distribution and supplier transparency, transportation modes and managing risks are critical to Lean success. Using a specified system to help manage this effectively is key.


  • Training- Ensuring the users have the necessary competences to adhere and comply with all relevant processes and regulatory challenges. This can be accessed remotely via Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other platforms.


  • Producing safely – digital technologies enable remote work and collaboration, which is now, during the challenges Coid-19 presents,  a necessity  – video conferencing is a given and more advanced technologies such as activity dashboards, machine Vision Algorithms and Wearable Technologies – such as Smart Watches to track activity, efficiency, safety and can even boost health and safety of the workforce.


  • Delivering the end product – already a complex task which quite often involves third party logistics partners, the pandemic now presents a whole different level of challenges – with contactless, safe delivery expected. The use of a digital logistics control tower will provide visibility to each and every step of the outbound service. It also helps with the allocation of resources.


  • Optimising your warehouse operation – the warehouse is a key place for automated processes. This can include picking and packing robots, augmented reality tools, automated material storage, smart shelves, and retrieval systems, among others. Meaning, if you must stagger your shop floor staffing, production does not need to be slowed.


Covid-19 has ‘forced the arm’ of many businesses to examine their current processes and expedite plans to update, modernise and digitalise quicker than planned. This is a silver lining amongst the pandemic challenges and will act to future proof industries, ensuring the operations are as Lean and efficient as possible.

For additional advice contact our in-house Lean Manufacturing expert To find out more about our apprenticeship programmes  please visit the webpage.


Womack and Jones 1996

*The five-step thought process for guiding the implementation of lean techniques is easy to remember, but not always easy to achieve:

  1. Specify value from the standpoint of the end customer by product family.
  2. Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product family, eliminating whenever possible those steps that do not create value.
  3. Make the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence so the product will flow smoothly toward the customer.
  4. As flow is introduced, let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.
  5. As value is specified, value streams are identified, wasted steps are removed, and flow and pull are introduced, begin the process again and continue it until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste.

Source –

Andrew Bradbury

Andrew Bradbury

Tutor of the Lean Manufacturing Operative Apprenticeship