Lean Manufacturing is a unified, comprehensive set of philosophies,
rules, guidelines, tools, and techniques for improving and optimizing
While Lean was born in large volume, repetitive manufacturing for the
automotive industry sector, Lean principles and benefits apply to all
processes (health care, service, high tech, sales & marketing, fast food,
etc.). For this reason, some call it "Lean Thinking", rather than the
more restrictive title of "Lean Manufacturing".
Lean Manufacturing started as the Toyota Production System (TPS),
developed by the Toyoda (now Toyota) Motor Car Company. Toyoda
started by the manufacturing of looms for manufacturing cloth, then
branched into bicycles before WWII.
In time, Toyoda (now Toyota) started to manufacture engines, small
delivery vehicles, trucks, and cars. Poor management decisions almost
put the company into bankruptcy. Losing face, the Sr. Management
resigned, and/or changed their ways. They changed the name of the
company (Toyoda to Toyota), granted workers life-long employment, and went
on an aggressive improvement program to try and work their way back from
near oblivion. The motivations for TPS were now established.
Soon the tools and techniques started to emerge that eased the frustrations
with the old, inefficient ways, and allowed Toyota to achieve its TPS
Toyota's engineers looked to Henry Ford (inventor of the assembly line),
Taylor (inventor of Modern Management techniques and Industrial
Engineering), and Dr. W. Edwards Deming (Father of Modern Quality
Management). Based on these early beginnings, the techniques were
refined, honed, and improved in all areas.
With the invasion of the North American market by Volkswagon in the
1960's, and Toyota in the 1970's, and a world-wide recession, the American
automotive industry was in for major changes and de-stabilization.
North American automotive watchdogs were looking for an explanation as
to how Toyota could manufacture a car, ship it to North America, and sell
it faster and cheaper than domestically made vehicles. Huge import
tariffs and import restrictions didn't stop the flow of these cheap,
desirable cars. Over time, the quality of the vehicles (as defined by
their reliability and longevity on the road) increased at a rapid rate.
The Japanese vehicles innovated at an extremely rapid rate, while N.
American designed and built vehicles tended to change at a very slow rate.
A 5 year, $5 million research project by MIT was started so as to
analyze the world-wide automotive industry in 14 countries (design,
markets, and manufacturing). In "The Machine that Changed the
World" Dr. Womack and his International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP)
group at MIT, identified the key differences between Toyota's TPS, European
auto industry, and North America's traditional systems. In short, N.
American and European had assumed and accepted the mass production theory
and honed it to perfection. Japan and Toyota had used mass production
as a starting point and evolved it further to TPS.
Womack coined the phrase "Lean Manufacturing" so as to encourage its
adoption of TPS methods everywhere (for competitors to admit they were
borrowing from Toyota was not feasible, nor politically possible; the old
"Not Invented Here" syndrome). Unfortunately, most didn't realize
that Toyota had borrowed heavily from Henry Ford's principles of the
1930's. Henry Ford's book was a best seller in Japan well past when
the existence of Ford's book was already forgotten in North America.
Today Lean Thinking (re-coined again so as to signal that the same
techniques can be used in banks, service organizations, hospitals, and all
manner of business systems) is being used world-wide in a growing number of
organizations. It is applied at the point of contact with customers,
as well as back room work. It applies to Engineering & Design
offices, as well as traffic flow in urban centres.
Toyota suggests that it takes a smart person at least 20 years to
complete full training, attitude, knowledge and comprehension of TPS in
their work venue. However, the most significant savings can be
achieved in the first 9 months. The amount of "low hanging fruit"
that is available in most organizations is staggering.