No matter how digitally mature a company may be, waste is a common byproduct that most manufacturers contend with, and can greatly impact the profitability and sustainability of a business.

Waste can lead to inflated costs, loss of valuable resources, reduced efficiency, and increased environmental impact. And in an era marked by heightened consumer awareness and increasingly stringent regulatory standards, the issue of waste in manufacturing is more important than ever.

Reducing waste is not just a matter of improving the bottom line, it's also about ensuring the longevity of the business, enhancing product quality, improving customer satisfaction, and demonstrating a commitment to sustainability. Therefore, it is crucial for manufacturers to understand and take proactive steps to identify and minimize waste in their operations.

The Lean Manufacturing approach, with its focus on waste reduction, offers valuable principles and techniques to address this challenge. In this post, we’ll provide a detailed overview of the various types of waste in manufacturing, and how adopting some of these lean principles can help you address waste in your own operations.

What is "Waste" in Lean Manufacturing?

In lean manufacturing, “waste” is defined as anything that doesn’t add value to a product. “Value” in manufacturing is defined as anything that a customer would be willing to pay for.

Therefore, waste is essentially an inefficiency within the system, leading to unnecessary costs and reducing profitability. It can manifest in various forms including excess inventory, quality defects, overproduction, and even unnecessary motion within the manufacturing facility.

The Lean Manufacturing philosophy has identified nine specific types of waste, often referred to as the "9 wastes," that are commonly found in manufacturing processes. By understanding and identifying these wastes, manufacturers can work towards creating more efficient, productive, and sustainable operations.

Overhead shot of car assembly at Toyota plant

Historically, lean practitioners have agreed on 7 wastes (or muda, as they are referred to in the Toyota Production System):

  1. Transport
  2. Inventory
  3. Motion
  4. Waiting
  5. Overproduction
  6. Overprocessing
  7. Defects

These wastes were defined by Taiichi Ohno, considered one of the founding fathers of lean manufacturing. In recent years, some practitioners have also included an 8th and 9th waste.

The 8th waste is unutilized talent and the 9th waste is behavior waste coming from human interactions. While the first 7 wastes are directly related to manufacturing processes, the waste of unutilized talent and behavior waste are both specific to manufacturing management.

Here are the 9 Wastes of Lean Manufacturing:

1. Transport

While transportation is a necessary element of any production process, excessive or inefficient transportation is considered a form of waste, known as transportation waste.

Excessive transportation often results from poor layout of the production facility, inadequate storage planning, or suboptimal supply chain management. Transportation waste not only increases the time it takes for a product to move through the production process, but can also lead to damage or loss of materials, increased costs, and heightened risk of accidents or injuries.

For example, a factory may be shipping materials from one end of the facility to the other multiple times during the manufacturing process due to poorly organized work stations. This unnecessary movement is a transportation waste and adds no value to the final product.

2. Inventory

With delays in material availability still disrupting production into this year, inventory waste is impacting cash flow and keeping manufacturing executives up at night. Inventory waste is caused by inaccurate forecasting systems, supply delays, lengthy changeover times between part runs, or inefficient inventory management and tracking systems.

Where producing goods or services went from a Just-in-Time model (pre-pandemic) to Just-in-Case at the height of supply chain disruptions, managers now want a more balanced, agile inventory management strategy that flows more efficiently.

3. Motion

If the way people move isn’t contributing value to processes or products, this is defined as motion waste. This productivity killer can have detrimental effects on the warehouse environment and the bottom line every time workers are reaching, gathering tools, or walking across a plant more than is needed.

With manufacturers still facing labor shortages, reducing motion waste from ineffective plant layouts, poor process documentation, or inefficient workplace organization can also lower turnover rates. Implementing digital tools to streamline operator workflows minimizes the challenge of managing motion waste in daily operations

4. Waiting

Waiting waste refers to as any idle time that occurs when interconnected events aren’t fully synchronized. This waste is easily identifiable because it is so visible.

Examples of this waste include idle operators waiting for equipment, production bottlenecks, production waiting for operators, and unplanned equipment downtime. Waiting can be caused by inconsistent work methods, lack of proper equipment or materials, long setup times, low man/machine effectiveness, poor equipment maintenance, or skills monopolies.

5. Overproduction

Overproduction is defined as producing more than is needed, faster than needed, or before it’s needed. This form of waste is most commonly seen in a "push system" supply chain.

Overproduction was common post-pandemic when demand leveled off and leaders weren’t sure what the future would hold. This form of waste impacts quality and costs, creating more of the other wastes. It also occurs when managers decide to push production, with unbalanced processes and poor planning, making scrap and rework inevitable.

6. Over-processing

Over-processing refers to any redundant effort in production or communication that does not add value to a product or service. Over-processing waste includes endless product or process refinement, excessive information, process bottlenecks, redundant reviews and approvals, and unclear customer specifications. It is caused by decision-making at inappropriate levels, inefficient policies and procedures, lack of customer input concerning requirements, poor configuration control, and spurious quality standards.

7. Defects

Defect waste is the primary waste in lean manufacturing that must be dealt with rapidly. It includes any instance where a product doesn’t meet specific manufacturing requirements. The more defects there are, the more material waste there is, and thus, the greater impact on product or service quality. Additionally, defects can result in scrap and rework which also wastes time.

Excessive variation in production processes, high inventory levels, inadequate tools or equipment, incompatible processes, insufficient training, or transport damage due to poor layouts and unnecessary handling can all lead to quality defect waste.

8. Unutilized talent

If employees are not being engaged in a process, they are not being utilized to their full potential or the organization's benefit. This waste of unutilized talent means that staff are kept busy with non-value-added tasks which are not bringing greater value or utilizing their best skills and talents. This could take the form of employees performing unnecessary work or not utilizing critical thinking abilities.

Workers who feel overworked, lack purpose, aren’t maintaining accountability for successes and failures, are frustrated by unclear directions, and aren’t given the opportunity to offer feedback in processes can feel stifled and underperform. By reviewing and refining training programs, ensuring work instructions are clear, and removing work silos, employees will share knowledge and align company goals with their purpose.

9. Behavior

Behavior waste is any waste coming from human interactions, which is common in most companies.

The more traditional a plant is, the more common this form of waste, often stemming from the other eight wastes. Having a management team that is aligned to process, people, and product is half the battle.

Creating an environment of engagement with workers when training them or introducing new products or processes is simplified with intuitive and effective training solutions. Additionally, operator training times and costs can be reduced with automated workflows, creating better work.


Manufacturing waste is a persistent challenge that impacts every element of a business, from product quality to efficiency, and most importantly, the bottom line. By embracing the principles of Lean Manufacturing, companies can identify and mitigate the sources of these inefficiencies, resulting in a more streamlined and value-driven production process.

Tulip offers a number of features that enable manufacturers to track every element of their production process in real-time. By identifying production issues as they arise, manufacturers are better-equipped to address them quickly and minimize waste across their operations.

Additionally, work instructions built with Tulip can help guide operators, ensuring that production activities are carried out correctly and efficiently and allowing businesses to prioritize their workers' resources are focused on value-added work.

In the ever-evolving world of manufacturing, being Lean is no longer optional; it's a necessity. As we move towards a future marked by increased digital integration, resource conservation, and customer-centric approaches, platforms like Tulip will be at the forefront of this transition, helping manufacturers navigate their digital transformation journey.

If you're interested in learning how Tulip can be used to track production and eliminate waste across your operations, reach out to a member of our team today!

Reduce waste and improve productivity with Tulip's Frontline Operations Platform

See how a system of apps can help keep processes lean with a free trial of Tulip.

Day in the life CTA illustration