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Shop floor supervisor using Lean manufacturing principles to check production line
James BrookApr 12, 2024 10:53:06 AM5 min read

Comparing Lean and Agile Manufacturing Principles: Which Is Best Suited for Your Process?

Comparing Lean and Agile Manufacturing Principles: Which Is Best Suited for Your Process?

This article explores the differences between lean and agile manufacturing principles and examines their suitability for various types of manufacturing processes. It begins by defining both lean and agile manufacturing, highlighting their origins, core principles, and objectives.

Lean manufacturing, rooted in the Toyota Production System, focuses on eliminating waste and maximising efficiency in production processes. It excels in process manufacturing environments, such as assembly lines, where streamlining operations and minimising defects are crucial.

On the other hand, agile manufacturing emphasises flexibility, adaptability, and rapid response to customer needs. Originating from the software development world, using the Scrum framework, agile principles, are well-suited for batch manufacturing and industries with rapidly changing customer demands.

We provide examples illustrating how lean and agile methodologies are applied in different industries. For instance, lean principles are effective in automotive manufacturing for optimising assembly lines and reducing setup times. At the same time, agile methodologies are beneficial for clothing manufacturers to adapt to market trends and introduce new designs quickly.

While both lean and agile manufacturing principles have their strengths, the article emphasises the importance of understanding each manufacturing environment's specific needs and objectives to determine the most suitable approach. It suggests that a hybrid approach combining elements of both lean and agile methodologies may offer the best solution for addressing the unique challenges of a particular manufacturing process.


Agile Manufacturing:

Agile manufacturing is a production methodology that emphasises flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness to customer needs. It originated from the software development world with the Agile Manifesto in 2001 but has since been applied to various industries including manufacturing. In agile manufacturing, the focus is on quickly responding to changes in customer demands and market conditions by continuously improving processes, collaborating across teams, and empowering workers to make decisions.


Lean Manufacturing:

Lean manufacturing, on the other hand, is a systematic method for eliminating waste within a manufacturing system while simultaneously maximising productivity. It was pioneered by Toyota in the 1950s and is often associated with the Toyota Production System (TPS). Lean manufacturing aims to create more value for customers with fewer resources by streamlining processes, removing machine downtime, reducing inventory, minimising defects, and optimising workflow.

Lean manufacturing


Agile Vs Lean Manufacturing, The Differences:


Approach to Change:

Agile: Embraces change and thrives on it. Agile manufacturing processes are designed to quickly adapt to changing customer requirements and market conditions. For example, a clothing manufacturer practising agile manufacturing might swiftly switch production from winter coats to summer dresses if there's an unexpected surge in demand.

Lean: Focuses on stability and continuous improvement. Lean manufacturing seeks to minimise disruptions and fluctuations in the production process. For instance, a car manufacturer implementing lean principles might work on reducing setup times to quickly switch between producing different car models but wouldn't necessarily change production plans as frequently as an agile manufacturer.

Lean automotive manufacturing


Customer Focus:

Agile: Places a strong emphasis on meeting customer needs and preferences. Agile manufacturing prioritises customer feedback and aims to deliver products that precisely match customer expectations. For instance, a software development team following agile principles might release product updates frequently based on customer feedback.

Lean: Also values meeting customer demands but focuses more on delivering value efficiently. Lean manufacturing aims to eliminate waste and optimise processes to deliver high-quality products at competitive prices. For example, a lean manufacturing company might implement just-in-time inventory systems to reduce inventory holding costs while still meeting customer demand.


Speed vs. Efficiency:

Agile: Prioritises speed and responsiveness. Agile manufacturing seeks to deliver products to market quickly by iterating rapidly and responding swiftly to changes. For example, a food manufacturer practising agile manufacturing might introduce new flavours or packaging designs frequently to stay ahead of competitors.

Lean: Emphasises efficiency and waste reduction. Lean manufacturing aims to improve processes to achieve maximum productivity and quality while minimising waste. For instance, a lean manufacturer might focus on reducing production cycle times and eliminating defects to improve overall efficiency.


Choosing between Implementing Lean or Agile Manufacturing Principles

Both lean and agile manufacturing principles can be applied to various types of manufacturing, but they may be more suited to different types of processes or industries based on their core principles and objectives. Here’s an example of where lean and agile manufacturing may be better suited to different manufacturing processes.


Lean Manufacturing:

Is typically suited for Process manufacturing, such as assembly lines and continuous production processes, where efficiency and waste reduction are crucial.

Strengths: Lean principles excel in streamlining repetitive processes and optimising workflow. Industries like automotive manufacturing, electronics production, and food processing often benefit from lean methodologies due to their focus on efficiency and quality control.

Example: An automotive assembly line implementing lean manufacturing principles might focus on reducing setup times, optimising workstations, and implementing quality control measures to minimise defects and improve overall productivity.

Lean manufacturing shadow board

The 5s Methodology is commonly used in Lean Manufacturing. An example of an organised workspace that uses labels and a form of shadow board to organise tooling.

The five key principles—Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain—create a foundation for a more streamlined and productive manufacturing environment.


Agile Manufacturing:

Is typically well suited for Batch manufacturing and industries with rapidly changing customer demands or short product lifecycles.

Strengths: Agile principles shine in environments where flexibility and responsiveness are key. Industries like fashion, consumer electronics, and software development can leverage agile methodologies to quickly adapt to market trends and customer preferences.

Example: A fashion retailer practising agile manufacturing might use rapid prototyping and quick production cycles to introduce new clothing designs in response to emerging fashion trends, allowing them to stay competitive in a fast-paced market.

Clothes manufacturers often use agile principles


Summary: Agile Vs Lean Manufacturing

In summary, while both agile and lean manufacturing shares the goal of improving productivity and meeting customer needs, they differ in their approach to change, customer focus, and the balance between speed and efficiency.

Agile manufacturing prioritises flexibility and rapid adaptation, while lean manufacturing focuses on stability and continuous improvement to drive efficiency and eliminate waste.

In some cases, a hybrid approach that combines elements of both lean and agile methodologies may be the most effective solution to address the unique challenges of a particular manufacturing environment.


Learn how FourJaw supports Agile and Lean Manufacturing

Book a call with one of our manufacturing technology experts and find out how FourJaw can support continuous improvement programmes in your factory. 

James Brook

A passionate and experienced Marketing Leader with a background of 15+ years in developing and implementing marketing, brand, and product strategies for companies across a breadth of sectors and geographies. Over the last five years, James has worked in the technology space, having led the global marketing function at an Industrial monitoring and control company and more recently joining FourJaw as Head of Marketing & Communications. FourJaw is a SaaS business that is helping to change the world of manufacturing productivity through its IoT machine monitoring platfom.