The history of lean manufacturing shows that it is usually feasible, if not downright simple, to eliminate waste from a process. This cannot happen, though, until the waste is recognized for what it is. One of Henry Ford's key success secrets was the ability to identify waste that others overlooked even though it was (with the benefit of hindsight) in plain view, and this skill is this article's key takeaway. The specific technologies or process improvements in the examples may or may not be applicable to the reader's industry, but their chief purpose is to illustrate the thought process behind them.

Overview: Waste Hides in Plain Sight

"How many of our competitor's workers does it take to change a light bulb? Four: one to hold the bulb, and three to turn the ladder." This joke is funny until we discover jobs or processes in our own workplaces that waste even more than 75% of the labor, cycle time, materials, and/or energy involved. In My Life and Work, Ford, who grew up on a farm, cited waste as great as 95%.
I believe that the average farmer puts to a really useful purpose only about 5% of the energy that he spends. …Not only is everything done by hand, but seldom is a thought given to logical arrangement. A farmer doing his chores will walk up and down a rickety ladder a dozen times. He will carry water for years instead of putting in a few lengths of pipe.
The takeaway is that, unlike poor quality, waste effort is built into the job where it is then taken for granted. The farmer would quickly notice a sick animal or pest-infested crops but, because the chores get done, he does not notice the waste of his labor.  In 1926, Ford in Today and Tomorrow elaborated,
Time waste differs from material waste in that there can be no salvage. The easiest of all wastes, and the hardest to correct, is this waste of time, because wasted time does not litter the floor like wasted material.
Again, nobody notices the waste because the job gets done and, in the absence of problems such as scrap or rework, nobody thinks to question the job's design. As an example, Edward Mott Woolley described a fabric folding operation in a bleaching and dyeing factory as follows:
But all [employees] took two steps to the right to secure their cloth, returned to the tables, folded the stuff and deposited it on another pile two steps to the left. That had always been the practice; no one had ever thought to question it. (The System Company, 1911, 41)
Henry Ford wrote later that pedestrianism is not a well-paying line of work, and a simple workplace rearrangement halved the number of steps the bleaching and dyeing factory's workers had to take. The changes doubled their output, and probably reduced their physical effort in the bargain.
Brick laying, as practiced into the early 20th century, is a classic example. Masons bent over to pick up each brick, a procedure that required the worker to lower and raise most of his body weight to add 5 pounds' worth of value (the brick) to the wall. Nobody questioned the procedure because the walls got built, although the workers went home with sore muscles and relatively low pay because they could lay only 125 bricks an hour.
Then Frank Gilbreth introduced a non-stooping scaffold that delivered bricks at waist level. Masons could now lay 350 bricks an hour, and with far less physical exertion. This resulted in higher pay, lower prices for customers and higher profits for the construction companies. A YouTube video compares the before and after situations, and you can actually see a worker bending over to get each brick. As this article promised earlier, the joke about the light bulb is far less funny when we recognize that the centuries-old method of brick laying wasted almost two-thirds of the mason's labor, and therefore his working life.
Gilbreth's movies can be used today to sensitize workers, engineers and supervisors to the kind of waste motion that is built into many jobs. They also underscore the value of making videos of jobs, as long as the workers understand that the objective is to evaluate the job designs rather than the workers. It might even be instructive to have the workers mark segments of the videos of their jobs (e.g. electronically) in green, yellow and red to indicate value-adding, value-assisting, and non-value-adding activities respectively.
If we return to the light bulb joke, factories and large businesses recognized long ago that having even one worker climb a ladder to replace a light bulb wastes the time of maintenance workers, and therefore money. This is why telescoping light bulb changers were invented more than 100 years ago. It may be acceptable to climb a ladder, or use hand tools, for occasional household chores and tasks, but no manufacturing or construction business would dream of using hand-powered tools for everyday work. If dozens or hundreds of screws or bolts must be tightened every day, power tools are used.
The same basic principle, namely that almost any unscientifically-designed job consists primarily of waste, carries over into the controversy over the minimum wage in fast food industries. The underlying principles and concepts again carry over into manufacturing industries.