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Steve Robson July 17, 2023 4 min read

Going On Vacation - Are You Actually a Lean Manufacturing Expert?

The day’s finally here you are ready to go on summer vacation. It’s a well-deserved break for you and your friends or family and the only thing in between you and the sunshine and fun is the airport. So here’s a little observation that might surprise you: if you’ve been through an airport recently or if you are due to go through one soon, there are a number of concepts you’ll recognize from this little coffee break article that may lead you to the realization that you are way more of a lean manufacturing expert than you had previously considered.


Your journey through the airport is actually quite similar to the process of a component moving through different stages of production in the value chain. To clarify, unlike any product, you do start the journey entirely whole and hopefully end it exactly the same way.

I've had the privilege of spending a significant portion of my professional career in the Automotive Sector, among other industries. During this time, I've come to greatly appreciate and admire the principles of the Toyota Production System. While I can't take credit for inventing any of these concepts or techniques, I have found immense value in incorporating them into my work.


So here we go, let’s talk about the ‘3Ms’.


‘Mura’ refers to unevenness or irregularity. The opposite of this is often described as flow. So whenever there is Mura it will lead in some way shape or form to ‘Muda’. 

If you don’t get straight through from check-in through security to the gate at an even pace (not ever likely in reality right?) there is arguably some form of Mura and some observable waste or Muda.



‘Muda’ refers to non-value added waste and is often subcategorized using the well-known acronym TIMWOOD to describe the 7 types of waste - Time, Inventory, Motion, Waste, Over-Production, Over-Processing, and Defects. In more recent times a lot of folks also refer to the 8th type of waste as S for Skills. You find a lot of this on LinkedIn not least because it’s a platform where career-frustrated or career-motivated individuals seek to grow their network to find new opportunities.


So at the airport, there are some great examples of Muda. This is quite a fun game and it’s easy to play if you have a couple of minutes, maybe you’re even waiting for a flight as we speak.


One of the most obvious examples of motion waste is when you have to walk around the cordons to security. It’s not really an issue, the cordons serve an important purpose and when the foot traffic gets higher, these cordons actually work to maintain the flow. Yet when it’s quiet you kind of innately recognize that walking in a straight line to the boxes at the and of the conveyor would be easier and more direct right?


Even before that, at the check-in desk you often still see people print out their paper boarding pass when they might have already the ticket on their mobile phones. This is arguably a form of over-processing and generates paper and ink waste as this document will never be used again after the flight. Another perspective to consider is that printing out a paper boarding pass can actually add value by alleviating the passenger's anxiety about whether their phone will be charged or if the technology will work at the security gates.

Another major inconvenience I'm sure we have all shared is when your flight is significantly delayed for any reason. This not only results in a loss of time but also requires you to wait around for your flight or connection to be ready for boarding. 



The third and final M stands for Muri,  which means ‘overburden’ where something is beyond a person or processes capability. Have you ever been queuing in a line at check-in and your airline’s line seems quite clear and quick, but the airline next to that has a clerk behind the desk who seems to have half the airport waiting for them? 

Maybe the baggage tag printer is down, maybe there’s another issue - but this person’s workload seems to be ten times that of the clerk next to them. They have become the bottleneck to the process flow.

Other examples? Passengers trying to carry too much luggage without a trolley.

One bonus principle not solely part of the TPS but widely recognized - visual management of the processes are key. Next time you see a stop or a go sign at an electronic barrier gate, or when you’re checking your flight status on the many TV screens around the airport - a decent and widely recognized use of visual management.


So what are your thoughts? Whether you've been familiar with these terms for a long time or if today's the first time you've heard them, do you have any observations or examples of waste in your daily life? Perhaps you're even more of a Lean Manufacturing expert than you ever realized!




About the author:

Steve Robson is a Senior Business Consultant at RamBase. He’s been in Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Quality Management for 25 years and loves helping customers solve their problems and meet their strategic outcomes.



Steve Robson

Steve Robson is a Senior Business Consultant at RamBase. He’s been in Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Quality Management for 25 years and loves helping customers solve their problems and meet their strategic outcomes.