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Lean Manufacturing and the 5 M’s

There has been much discussion about the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing. But how can you integrate automation into your factory with lean in mind from the start? Lean is an all-encompassing philosophy that takes the 5 M’s (Man, Material, Machines, Methods, and Money) and harmonizes or helps orchestrate them together for the best possible outcome in your manufacturing operations. If you do not know the 5 M’s, here’s a brief overview of how the 5 M’s relate to lean automation.

What are the 5 M's in Lean Automation?


You have labor that is required to perform specific tasks to produce your products. If your labor force is not happy, you may find your operations struggling. When a direct employee (the ones making your company money) interfaces with a piece of equipment, they must be comfortable working at a specific station for extended periods. Thus, making the factory automation equipment ergonomically compliant will help ensure a safe and productive environment for your direct labor force.


Every product has a process or multiple processes that it must go through before being delivered as a final product to a customer. The methods used to perform value-added work to the product must be consistent and controlled. The machine should verify that each process took place correctly and that each part or assembly is processed correctly or meets the quality specifications.


Each machine used in a process must perform its intended function or task with precision and reliability. Making robust, flexible, and scalable machines is key to following the Toyota Production System mentality. Machines can also include in-process inspections, self-diagnostics, and mistake-proofing features that only pass perfect parts downstream to subsequent processes.


Every process has materials coming into the work area to be processed or assembled. Making equipment that facilitates easy material flow can pay huge dividends to those who understand that minimizing material movements is vital to successfully implementing lean. Incoming and outgoing material flows should be heavily considered when developing an automated solution for the shop floor.


When you choose an automation solution or piece of equipment, you must be sure that it will pay for itself before purchasing it. If the machine solves issues and helps you realize the results you are hoping for, you should see a significant payback and realize immediate positive impacts on your bottom line.

The next time you’re looking for automation, make sure it addresses the 5 M’s, and you can’t go wrong.

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