How to Reduce Deadly Waste in Manufacturing: Motion

Your job is to create. You get a set price for what you create and how much of that goes into the bank is up to you.

Motion Waste is the unnecessary movement of people (as opposed to products, which is Transportation Waste). This Waste’s most obvious casualty is time, but it can lead to serious health concerns, as well.


Motion Waste Origins:

In the late 1880s, a young bricklayer’s helper, named Frank Gilbreth, noticed something that bugged him. Having to bend over repeatedly during the day to pick up bricks, the layers were suffering from sore backs, which reduced productivity over time.

Gilbreth developed a multi-layer scaffold so bricks were always in easy reach. Productivity increased, and he become an efficiency expert who’s still being studied today.


Count your Steps:

Every smartphone comes with a built-in pedometer, so let’s use it. Walk through your assembly process step-by-step, recording how long each part of your process takes. Like all process improvement, this isn’t something you can do from the corner office. Change happens on “the floor.”

Now, which steps could be removed? When did you have to walk to get something, turn something on, reset something, or move a material into position? Think outside the box on how to make it more efficient. Move the worker to a better spot, create some at-hand storage, or revisit procedures so everyone is performing tasks closest to their area.

motion waste is also known as transportation waste

Lifting and Bending:

The most insidious Motion Waste happens when our feet aren’t moving. Fetching heavy objects from high or low shelves, having to reach repeatedly beyond our comfort, or needing to bend and contort as part of an everyday process are all long term drains on our physical resources.

Back pain, soreness, and other bodily ailments will lead to decreased productivity at best and lawsuits at worst. They drain morale and make people think less of working for you, but are often easily avoided.

If the process involves a heavy product, put it on an arm-height shelf to avoid bending. If the product is light and needs no extra effort to be lifted, put it on the floor.

The Equation:

Yes, there’s math involved. The more repetitive a process is, the more each saved step is worth. McDonalds invests big money to save a step in their Big Mac Combo process because it’s repeated umpteen times a day.

If you haven’t focused on Motion Waste before, there will be plenty of low-hanging fruit to start with. Chances are, with little searching, you’ll be able to tighten up a lot of processes before you have to start thinking about moving machinery around and changing production floor workflows.


When you walk into a shop and see an outline on the wall where a hammer should be: that’s 5S. It’s a pillar of Lean that’s invaluable in tightening Motion Waste.

The premise is simple: keep equipment clean, in good order, and its place. One thing that your step-counter won’t tell you is how much time per day your team spends wandering around looking for that very hammer.