by John Henry

Lazy manufacturing or lean manufacturing?

“Progress is made by lazy people looking for easier ways to do things.”

So begins Robert Heinlein’s tale of “The man who was too lazy to fail”. The hero, as a boy, looks at his options of working on a farm or going to school. Being lazy, he decides school is easier. On graduation his options are coal mining or college, so off to the Naval Academy. Naval aviation looks like the easiest alternative so he opts for that. Flying a plane is a lot of work so he invents an autopilot, and so on.

In most plants, most people work too hard. Some of this involves performing unnecessary tasks; some involves making necessary tasks harder than they should be. Some involves doing normal work in a rush because it had not been properly planned.

This extra work stresses the processes and, more importantly, the people in the plant. This stress leads to mistakes, defective product and reduced overall production.

Most of you are familiar with Lean Manufacturing. Many of you probably have lean manufacturing programs in your companies and if you don’t, you must. Lean manufacturing is about eliminating wasted materials, energy, time, effort and work.

The benefits of lean manufacturing brings for the company-reduced costs, increased production and profit-are easy to see. It is sometimes hard for the person on the line to see the benefit to them. They are being asked to move out of their comfort zones and work in new ways. They are thinking, even if they are not saying, “What’s in it for me?” Until they understand that, they are never going to get excited about it.

Lazy manufacturing addresses this concern. If it does nothing else, it catches them off-guard and gets them listening. More importantly, it encapsulates the entire focus of lean manufacturing. Some people, when they hear lean manufacturing, think that it is about doing more with less or working harder. Lazy manufacturing tells them the opposite. Lazy manufacturing is about working slower, easier and more carefully. Lazy manufacturing is about improving results with less effort. That’s what’s in it for them.

Lean manufacturing is often implemented top-down and focuses more on big-picture stuff. Lazy manufacturing is bottom-up. Lazy manufacturing is about challenging the folks on the floor, the true experts, to find ways to make their jobs easier. Turn them loose and it is amazing the ideas that they can come up with.

In one plant, operators put small date labels on each carton, peeling each one by hand. An operator suggested a price labeling gun, and this was implemented that same day. In a PET bottle plant, an operator suggested eliminating adjustment of half of the brackets on a thousand feet of conveyor. That was implemented the next day. Operators were not happy about stooping to load cases on pallets. Management ordered a pallet lift that week.

So, lazy manufacturing or lean manufacturing? Of course!

John Henry, Certified Packaging Professional (CPP), is renowned as the Changeover Wizard. His company, at, offers workshops and other services to reduce changeover time. Contact John at or 787-550-9650.