The Importance of Lean Manufacturing

July 23, 2020 11:57 am Published by 5 Comments

Hey readers,

Welcome, and thank you all for coming back to my blog for another read. I will be taking you through the area of work that I am currently in and its importance.

When I came to Tolko at the beginning of May, a lot of life was uncertain. Due to the Covid-19 circumstances, I was feeling fortunate to be employed in and of itself, especially when I saw the unemployment rates skyrocketing around me. I went through the detailed onboarding process at the mill. After this process, I was placed in the area that was labelled as Lean. As many of you are probably thinking. WHAT IS LEAN? Lean is a vital part of any business in order to stay competitive in their respective market regardless of what they do. Lean is, in one way or another, a way of saying continuous improvement.

At Tolko Industries – Meadow Lake OSB Division, we strive for what we like to call lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing is a structured manufacturing method that focuses on reducing waste without losing value to the customer. I went home to my family after my first day on the job, and they all were asking what was lean and what I was doing. It’s hard to explain, but in layman’s terms, I would say it is the acquisition of efficiencies throughout the mill. Our job is literally to make the mill run smoother, faster, safer and easier by making processes more efficient.

Infographic on lean manufacturing.

Figure 1: How lean manufacturing mitigates waste

At the beginning of working under my amazing supervisor Candace (AKA. The Lean Queen), she taught me how to find waste with a super easy to remember acronym called DOWNTIME.

Defects– Efforts caused by rework, scrap, and incorrect information

Overproduction– Production that results in more product than needed or before it’s needed

Waiting– Wasted time waiting for the next step in a process

Neglected Potential– Underutilizing people’s talents, skills, & knowledge

Transportation– Unnecessary movements of products & materials

Inventory– Excess products and materials not being processed

Motion– Unnecessary movements by people (Eg: Walking)

Extra Processing– More work or higher quality than required by the customer

After learning of the different DOWNTIME wastes, we went on a (Gemba) walk through the mill looking for these wastes. In a matter of one day, the way I looked at processes around the mill changed for the better. It’s hard to explain, but instead of just seeing with my eyes, I was, in a way, analyzing everything with an in-depth view of wastes. It was as if a switch flipped in my head, and now, I was seeing everything more clearly and with a critical lens. 

Once we find the waste, we use our unique set of skills that we have in what we like to call our “Lean toolbox” to solve and fix the waste. A list of these tools includes: 

5S – A workplace organizational tool

  • Sort 
  • Set in order (creating a visual workplace)
  • Shine (clean)
  • Standardize (documentation to keep in new condition)
  • Sustain (keeping clean & tidy)


  • Standardization
  • Creating a blueprint on how to perform a task the most efficient way every time 
  • Locking in the gains by sustaining them through a plan

Kaizens Events

  • Identify the Problem
  • Select Team
  • Identify Solutions using Lean Tools
  • Implement the Solution
  • Standardize
  • Sustain
  • Celebrate our achievements!


  • This tool allows for the problem to be analyzed and the root cause to be found


  • There are numerous tools for every situation regardless of how niche it may be

In the photos below, you can see an example of what a proper 5S tool being used looks like. We started with a sea-can filled with mill documents that needed to be retained. Some documents required to stay in storage for seven years, and others are required to be kept in perpetuity. As it stood, an employee of the company would have to go out into the sea-can and put the boxes of the new documents away. They would just place the boxes in any location that had room with no organization at all. Annually, an employee would then have to look through all 400+ boxes to find which ones were ready to be shredded that year. This process could take the employee a full working day in the sea-can. As you can see in the photos, the sea-can was full and was filled with tripping hazards. We performed a 5S on the area and organized and standardized everything so that it should now take no longer than 10 minutes to complete the same task and went from 392 boxes to 122 boxes freeing up a lot of space. While calculating the ROI, I learned that everything has value, even space, which made for some exciting calculations and problem-solving.

Document Retention 5S Standardization Documentation

Figure 2: Document Retention 5S Standardization Documentation (Wow, say that 5 times fast!)

Workspaces before and after they were cleaned.

Figure 3: Document Retention 5S

My favourite part of lean is to see the before and after and calculating the ROI. ROI stands for return on investment and allows us to gauge how much our work is saving the company, which is very interesting, in my opinion. Each project is different, which makes the calculation for the ROI new and exciting every time.

Once a person really delves into the roots of lean manufacturing, you will see how much the pioneers like Henry Ford, Kiichiro Toyoda, Sakichi Toyoda, and Taichii Ohno have played on modern companies of all shapes and sizes. Toyota is a company that has played an enormous role in how lean is seen today. In the 1930s, Toyota was making considerable strides in lean. Now Toyota has stamped their name all over lean with what people like to call, “The Toyota Way!” Toyota’s success with lean is now a gauge for how lean can transform and improve companies. 

Lean can be taken advantage of at any company, regardless of the size. It amazed me at first, how much waste you could find when you keep an eye out. 

 Lean goes against how a lot of people think. You always hear the, “Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” This may be true to a certain extent, but the times are changing, and if you cannot evolve at the speed of your competition, you will be left in the dust. Lean manufacturing is a culture that needs to have a 100% buy-in from everyone in a supervisory role and then taught and applied it from the top down. Henry Ford has a quote that I love, and it goes, “If you always do what you always did, then you’ll always get what you always got.” The world is always getting quicker and more efficient, so why wouldn’t you? As humans, we are creatures of habit, so it can make it hard to break free of the continual routine, but it is of paramount importance to break the habit and strive for lean manufacturing in the workplace.

Here at Meadow Lake OSB we have a lean vision that states, “Empower employees to provide solutions by actively contributing in continuous improvement activities that support key business objectives.” We believe that if the culture is geared towards continuous improvements, and the employees are empowered to do so, it will allow our mill always to improve and stay competitive in the OSB market.

Till next time,

Jace Timmer

PS: This week on my morning commute to work I hit a bear with my little Honda Civic. Luckily the collision with the bear was not very hard, and there were no damages to the vehicle or the bear.


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