Lean manufacturing, a process improvement initiative that focuses on reducing waste, has been well known in the industrial world for decades.
But the concept has been thrust into the mainstream spotlight due to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the nation’s paper towel shortage.
In the spring, Americans faced limited supplies of many paper products, most notably toilet paper and paper towels, due to a pandemic buying surge.
After a brief reprieve, paper towels are again difficult to find, and while some blame consumer hoarding, the WSJ is blaming something else: Lean manufacturing.
The article contends Lean principles leave manufacturers hamstrung when there is a run on their products, like the surges in demand seen for paper products.
They say Lean manufacturers maintaining low inventory levels were unable to respond adequately to the COVID-19 demand spike.
The Lean Enterprise Institute says it’s more complicated, and that paper product manufacturers are being held up by supply chain issues limiting access to critical direct materials.
According to CNN, “the group noted that you can't make a paper towel with only 99% of the supplies needed to manufacture them.”