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Packaging and Material Handling in Integrating Lean Production Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 1st, 2021


Lean production is based on the notion that lean means using less of everything, labor, manufacturing premises, working hours, inventory to manufacture a growing variety of products with fewer defects while achieving higher quality and productivity. Lean production is defined as: “a Japanese approach to management that focuses on cutting out waste, whilst ensuring quality. This approach can be applied to all aspects of a business – from design, through production to distribution” (Lean production n.d.). In lean production, the optimal utilization of the potential of technology requires an approach to equipment and process design with a focus on their implications for work activities. If the desired outcomes of quality, flexibility and continuous competence development are to be achieved, work design has to be an integral part of the total design process. For workers, continuous improvement in lean production means continuous learning. In the knowledgeable workplace, learning is no longer a classroom activity; rather, the organization itself becomes a learning environment. As it becomes more difficult to anticipate future knowledge and skill requirements, lean production itself must be organized so as to allow for continuous learning and development.

Discussion Section


The packaging stage involves several sub-stages: acquisition of the goal or idea of the production; acceptance of that goal as one of the group’s aims, and therefore acceptance of the project as having a certain priority for group attention, effort, and resources; and planning, at least at a general level, for the conduct of the project. The example of Ford Motor Company shows that: “reusable packaging drives lean production by facilitating the tremendous benefits. It opens the door to better scheduling, smaller batches and inventories, faster response to schedule changes, and smaller, more frequent deliveries leading to the success of their “Synchronous Material Flow” (“Lean Packaging” 2004). At the first stage, packaging involves a choice of goals and a consequent initial selection of a performance strategy. Several tactics might help reduce the problems created by neglect of member support and group well-being functions, and the middle stages of the production function as well. For example, the production manager might create work groups initially on a face-to-face basis, and then when they are established (in the sense of the functions and stages discussed here) add the technological tools to their armamentarium. Alternatively, the production manger might try to create large working groups of communicators, using technologically mediated communication systems at the outset but dealing only with routine communication matters (Toyota Material Handling 2009).

Lean design is aimed at essentially cutting the engineering effort in half and saving one-third in development time. This allows for a fast-paced increase in product range and product adaptation to changing consumer demands. The decentralized organization also led to considerable variation among teams; in some, workers are more likely to cling to established methods and work patterns, and in others, highly qualified workers continuously strive to develop new methods and improvements. It is still too early to evaluate this unusual work reorganization experiment in terms of standard productivity, cost, and quality measures. Packaging is closely connected with material handing as: “from raw material to finished goods, plastic reusable packaging safely and efficiently moves material/product along with different points of the supply chain and ultimately to its destination” (“Lean Packaging” 2004). Collaborative work–in anything but the most trivial sense of two people who just happen to be doing some task together–implies that there is more or less long-term cooperative work on broadband of activities (i.e., projects) among the same collaborators. But if success requires the broad and deep cooperation of the same production units over a long time period, by definition they need to put forth some effort, early on, to address successfully those tough and tenacious interpersonal questions implied in the stages of the member support and group well-being functions (“5 Steps to Implementing a Lean Material Handling system” 2009).

Material Handling

Material handling involves the participatory planning process that gives employees real influence in the design phase. It fostered a discourse as to what constitutes meaningful human activity and how work might be organized to meet human needs for learning and development as well as economic goals of productivity, flexibility, and quality. Needless to say, this process requires patience and is fraught with many difficulties, as it demands the rethinking of traditional roles for all parties involved and the honest search for new ways of working together. For managers, it may mean relinquishing traditional arenas of control and unilateral decision-making. For unions, it poses the question of how to counteract possible threats to solidarity and the potential for group competition, as workgroups gain autonomy and influence in the decision-making process (“5 Steps to Implementing a Lean Material Handling system” 2009). The choice of alternative work design concepts is really a choice of purpose shaped by values. If our vision of the workplace of the future is based solely on the criterion of output per person-hour, then indeed the Japanese model may be the preferred choice, though the human costs resulting from stress and a fast work pace appear to be mounting, For instance, in medical production, “EcoFlow manual roller conveyors make single piece material flow easier than ever. This modular, workpiece-pallet-based product gives you complete flexibility in moving, stopping and positioning your products” (“Lean production and material flow in medical manufacturing”2008). If the presence of technological tools increases the chances of quality improvements, it may at the same time increase the chances that the collaborative effort will not flourish over a long period of time.

Production inefficiencies

In spite of opportunities and benefits of lean production, researchers and manufacturers agree that some of the inefficiencies include excess inventories, excess space requirement, excess material handling, complex production control, and poor product quality (delays before detection, damage in handling, lack of accountability, obsolescence, etc.). All of these inefficiencies are the consequences of producing more at individual operations than the production system itself can effectively absorb. Indiscriminate micro maximization generates system inefficiency. technology can affect all three group functions, at all three levels. Regarding the production function, new technological means are likely to change the steps involved in many tasks. Such technological changes also often alter the sets of tasks by which some group projects can best be done (“5 Steps to Implementing a Lean Material Handling system” 2009). New technologies sometimes open up possibilities for entirely new projects, missions that can help the group attain its long-run purposes but that were not possible or even conceivable within the limitations of the prior technology. The example of Ford and its production system shows that: “frequent part deliveries and standardized package sizes improve the flow of product and reduce the need for extra storage or warehouse space. An efficient flow of materials is essential to a sound lean program” (“Lean Packaging” 2004).

Although technological changes in packaging are usually aimed at modifying the material handling function, they almost always have profound effects on the group well-being and member support functions as well. The distribution among group members of both access to the hardware portions of the new technology and of the expertise needed to use and understand the new systems may provide brand new dimensions of the distribution of status and power within a group-dimensions that correlate quite poorly with the prior status structure. Parts suppliers in traditional mass production work to the blueprint of their customer, which results in little incentive to improve quality. Lean production manufacturers, by contrast, organize their suppliers into tiers. The suppliers are given performance specifications and are encouraged to communicate with suppliers responsible for other components. The establishment of long-term relationships with suppliers and the elimination of fierce competition among suppliers responsible for various components create incentives for supplier cooperation and efforts to improve the quality of their particular components. Through cross-ownership and joint development, suppliers become closely involved with the assembly plant. In addition, the flow of parts in the supply system is coordinated on a daily basis, using the famous just-in-time system, in which only the parts immediately needed at each stage of the production process are available (“Lean Packaging” 2004).


In terms of the degree to which these production concepts provide opportunities for competence development and collective decision-making latitude at the workgroup and individual level, the three plants can be viewed on a continuum. While production at all three plants is based on workgroups, the range of responsibilities and the scope of activities performed by the individual and the group vary greatly. At one end is Ford or Toyota, where the work units as they are currently operating seem to provide very little opportunity for individual and group competence development or multi-skilling at all levels. Packaging and material handling levels emerge from that large network to become continuing collaborative groups, using multiple communication systems–including the face-to-face option–as their collaboration becomes more lasting and less topic-specific.

Works Cited

Lean Packaging: Using Plastic Reusable Packaging to Support Your Lean Operation. ORBIS Corporation. 2004. Web.

Lean Production n.d. Web.

Lean production and material flow in medical manufacturing. Rexroth Bosch Group. 2008. Web.

“5 Steps to Implementing a Lean Material Handling System” Society of Manufacturing Engineers, 2009. Web.

Toyota Material Handling. 2009. Web.

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