What is lean automation?

July 3, 2024
Standard Bots robot visualizer

What is lean automation?

Lean automation combines lean manufacturing principles with automation technology to optimize processes, reduce waste, and improve productivity. The core idea is to automate only value-added steps in a process while eliminating non-value-added waste.

Core principles of lean automation

Lean automation follows the core principles of lean manufacturing — eliminate waste and improve efficiency. 

The key principles of lean automation include:

  • Identifying value-added vs. non-value-added steps: Focus automation on steps that directly add value to the customer. Eliminate or minimize other steps.
  • Reducing waste: Use automation to eliminate the seven wastes: overproduction, waiting, transport, extra processing, inventory, motion, and defects.
  • Continuous improvement: Continually optimize automated systems and processes through feedback loops, monitoring, and refinement.

Key components of a lean automation system

A lean automation system consists of several integral parts that work together in unison.

These include:

  • Integrated systems: Connected systems that can communicate and share data in real time. This reduces excess processing and duplication of data.
  • Flexible automation: Automation that can be quickly reconfigured or redeployed as needed to support changes in product, volume, or processes.
  • Error-proofing: Automated sensors, controls, and alerts that detect defects and mistakes immediately to avoid value loss.
  • Data-driven monitoring: Systems that collect real-time data on productivity, quality, uptime, and other performance indicators to enable continuous optimization.

How lean automation integrates with lean manufacturing

They may look like two peas in a pod, but they’re not the same; both lean manufacturing and lean automation can work synergistically to be better than the sum of their parts. 

Let’s explore this concept: 

  • Lean automation works hand in hand with lean manufacturing principles. When fully integrated, they create a smooth and efficient system focused on reducing waste and maximizing value.
  • The goals of lean automation mirror those of lean manufacturing. The idea is to eliminate waste, increase productivity, and improve quality. This also means freeing up human brainpower and resources. 
  • Lean automation helps optimize processes by removing non-value-added steps. It can streamline material flow, improve cycle times, and increase flexibility. Integrating automation into an existing lean process further simplifies the steps required and gets you maximum efficiency.

Like lean manufacturing, lean automation relies on data to drive decision-making. Key metrics are monitored to determine where automation would have the biggest impact.

Standard Bots routine editor

Benefits of lean automation

Lean automation comes with several benefits that positively impact your business. 

Let’s take a look: 

  • Across-the-board productivity gains. Automating manual and repetitive tasks frees up your employees to work on higher-value activities. Robots and machines can operate near-continuously at a consistent speed, allowing you to increase output and meet customer demands.
  • Machines perform with higher accuracy and precision rates. Lean automation systems reduce human error and inconsistency, leading to higher-quality products and services.

    They can also perform real-time quality checks and make adjustments to avoid defects. (While machines can be more consistent, human workers can sometimes offer greater adaptability and problem-solving skills.)
  • Cost-slashing. Automation decreases labor costs associated with manual processes. It also minimizes waste from inefficiencies and quality issues.

    With streamlined operations, you gain a competitive cost advantage to improve profit margins or pass on savings to customers through lower prices.
  • Consistent quality. Automated systems operate based on programmed algorithms and parameters to produce consistent and replicable results. They perform tasks the same way every time according to defined standards. This consistency leads to predictable, high-quality outcomes that meet customer expectations.
  • Safety for all. Robots and machines can take over dangerous tasks, minimizing the risk of injury or health issues for workers. A safe workplace also leads to lower costs from accidents, health claims, and absenteeism.

Implementing lean automation in your operations

  • The first step is to look at your current operations and identify areas of waste. Look for non-value-added steps, inefficient processes, and quality issues. Once you determine key problem areas, you can develop solutions to streamline and automate certain tasks. Start with quick wins and then work your way up. 
  • Lean automation means taking on a mindset of continuous improvement. Don’t try to overhaul your entire operation at once. Instead, pick one area or process to focus on, make incremental changes, then monitor and optimize over time. Provide employees with ongoing training.
  • Explore tools and technologies that can help automate manual work, cut down on errors, and connect different systems. Options include robotic process automation, AI-powered chatbots, workflow management software, and more.

    Choose solutions that integrate easily with your existing infrastructure and can scale as needed. Start with a pilot program and take it from there. 
  • You need buy-in from leadership and staff. Explain the benefits of automation and provide opportunities for feedback. Give employees the power to suggest and lead process improvements in their areas of work. When new technology is up and running, make sure staff are properly trained.

Challenges and considerations in adopting lean automation

Lean automation may sound ideal in theory, but implementing it means being conscious of these hurdles: 

  • Transitioning to lean automation inevitably requires investment in new technology and training. The initial costs may be substantial, and it can take time to realize the full benefits. Make sure you have a well-developed business case showing a return on investment before moving forward.
  • Some employees may experience automation as threatening. Be transparent about your plans, provide ample retraining opportunities, and help employees develop the technical skills to work with new automated systems.

    With the right support, lean automation can empower employees by removing repetitive manual tasks and enabling them to focus on more strategic work.
  • For lean automation to work, you must integrate systems and software. This requires quality data that is standardized, consistent, and accessible. Many companies struggle with “islands of automation” that aren’t properly connected.

    Plan how you will integrate systems and ensure high data quality before investing heavily in new technology.
  • Networked automated systems can be targets for cyber attacks if not properly secured. Develop and implement a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy to protect your systems and data. Monitor for vulnerabilities and stay up to date with the latest best practices.

Summing up

We’ve just scratched the surface of lean automation.

Lean automation takes dedication, but if you want to achieve true lean manufacturing, there’s no going around these principles

The key: Approach automation as a journey of ongoing improvement and you'll be on your way to a leaner, more efficient operation.

Next steps 

Ready to give your operations a shot in the arm with lean automation principles? Standard Bots' RO1, the six-axis robotic arm, is engineered to enhance efficiency for both SMEs and industrial titans. 

  • High-level, accessible automation: Invest in the latest robotics technology at half the price of similar models, making automation a practical solution for your budget.
  • Increased productivity: With its impressive 18 kg payload and unwavering precision, RO1 effortlessly handles tasks with speed and accuracy.
  • Next-gen intelligence, today: RO1's advanced AI, comparable to the technology behind GPT-4, enables continuous learning and adaptation to your unique workflow. Plus, its intuitive, code-free interface makes programming and operation a breeze for anyone on your team.
  • Prioritizes safety: RO1 is designed to collaborate safely with your workforce, utilizing cutting-edge sensors and cameras to proactively avoid any issues and ensure a secure working environment.

Our experts are excited to schedule a 30-day risk-free demo so you can witness RO1's capabilities firsthand and discover how it can drive your business growth.

Standard Bots equipment manager
Standard Bots camera vision
Press contacts