Making Materials Flow

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A Lean material-handling guide for operations, production-control, and engineering professionals


ISBN: 978-0974182490

Published: July 2011

Author: Chris Harris, Earl Wilson, Rick Harris

Pages: 93

Publisher: Lean Enterprise Institute




Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award recipient

Making Materials Flow describes in plain language another step in implementing a complete lean business system.

LEI’s first workbook, Learning to See, focused on where to start — at the value stream for each product family within your facilities. After mapping has identified waste and potential applications of flow and pull, you can use the techniques in Creating Continuous Flow to implement truly continuous flow in cellularized operations. Making Materials Flow takes the next step by explaining how to supply purchased parts to the value stream in order to support continuous flow.

Companies are making progress in creating areas of continuous flow as more managers learn about value-stream mapping and continuous-flow cells,” said co-author Rick Harris, who also co-authored the Creating Continuous Flow workbook. Both workbooks have received Shingo Research Prizes.

During visits to plants Harris has noticed an unsettling trend. “As I walk through facilities and examine earnest efforts to create continuous flow, I see how hard it is to sustain steady output. The problem often is the lack of a lean material-handling system for purchased parts to support continuous flow cells, small-batch processing, and traditional assembly lines.”

Making Materials Flow explains in plain language how to create such a system by applying the relevant concepts and methods in a step-by-step progression. The workbook reveals the exercises, formulas, standards, and forms that a consultant would use to implement the system in your environment. And, like LEI’s other workbooks, Making Materials Flow answers the key question managers often have about lean manufacturing tools and concepts, “What do I do on Monday morning to implement this?” The key steps detailed in the workbook include:

Developing the Plan For Every Part (PFEP). This basic database fosters accurate and controlled inventory reduction and is the foundation for the continuous improvement of a facility’s material-handling system.

Building the purchased-parts market. Learn the formulas and methods to size and operate a market that eliminates the waste of hoarding, searching for parts, and storing inventory throughout a facility.

Designing delivery routes and the information management system. You get the principles and calculations that turn a sprawling, messy plant into an organized community where operators get the parts they need, when needed, and in the quantity needed, delivered right to their fingertips. Proper delivery routes not only improve inventory and flow but also safety and housekeeping. Pull signals help to integrate the new material-handling system with the information management system. Learn the steps to creating a system that keeps inventory under control by allowing operators to pull just what they need while focusing on producing value for customers. You’ll also learn how to calculate the number of pull signals needed and how often to deliver material.

Sustaining & Improving. Finally, you’ll learn how to sustain and continuously improving the system by implementing periodic audits of the material-handling system across the chain of management, from route operator to plant manager. You’ll learn the five-step process for introducing audits of the market, routes, and pull signals by a cross-functional team from production control, operations, and industrial engineering.

Harris and co-authors Chris Harris and Earl Wilson lead you through 10 simple but pragmatic questions that show how a lean manufacturing facility implements a robust but flexible lean material-handling system for purchased parts:

The Plan For Every Part (PFEP)

  • What information should you include in the PFEP?
  • How will you maintain the integrity of the PFEP?

Developing a Purchased-Parts Market

  • Where do you locate your purchased-parts market?
  • What is the correct size for your purchased-parts market, and what is the correct amount of each part to hold in the market?
  • How do you operate your purchased-parts market?

Designing the Delivery Route and the Information Management System

  • How do you convey parts from the purchased-parts market to the production areas?
  • How do your production areas signal the purchased-parts market what to deliver and when?
  • How do you fill the delivery route?

Sustaining and Improving

  • How can you sustain the performance of your lean material-handling system?
  • How can you identify and remove additional waste?

An appendix explores how to adapt the key principles of lean material-handling to more complex environments, such as incorporating work-in-process (WIP) markets into the system for purchased parts, adding delivery routes from production cells to a finished-goods market, and applying the system to low-volume, high-mix processes.

Making Materials Flow will benefit lean leaders, managers, and executives in production control, operations, and engineering who have at least a basic knowledge of lean concepts such as value-stream mapping, cell design, and standard work. The 93-page workbook contains more than 50 illustrations.


Rick Harris

Rick is also the co-author of Creating Continuous Flow: an action guide for managers, engineers & production associates, also a Shingo Research prize winner. Rick learned the realities of manufacturing during 15 years at GM, beginning as an operator and working his way up to first line manager. He received his lean education at Toyota’s Georgetown, KY, plant, where he was a member of the startup team and an assembly manager. Rick continued his lean training at the Tsutsumi Assembly Plant in Toyota City, Japan. He pioneered the “reverse flow” process to achieve dramatic increases in operator efficiency. He also has extensive experience developing layouts that facilitate one-piece flow, operator flexibility, first-time-through quality, optimum uptime, and reduced capital investment.

Chris Harris

Chris began his lean training on the assembly line at Toyota’s Georgetown, KY, plant where he learned the proper use of lean tools such as takt time, standardized work, production status boards, and the andon system. He continued his lean training at Toyota Tsusho America where he worked with returnable container systems, kanban systems, parts supermarkets, and milk runs. Chris, a six sigma green belt, also has been a production supervisor and a corporate buyer. He currently aids companies implementing lean through Harris Lean Systems.

Earl Wilson

Earl has 35 years extensive manufacturing experience. He began his career as fabrication operator and worked his way up to hold various management positions. Earl received his lean training as Materials Manager at the Johnson Controls plant in Georgetown, Ky., a tier one supplier to Toyota. He has spent the last twelve years helping companies in many different industries implement lean principles into their organizations. He has extensive experience in material flow, facility layout, cell design and administration processes. To learn more about Earl and his company, visit

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Weight 0.54 kg

Lean Enterprise Institute