Lean Six Sigma Manufacturing

Lean Thinking History

Lean Six Sigma History


Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System (TPS), which started its development in 1940s, although some lean manufacturing concepts were previosuly used by some other manufacturing systems. Just think to Henry Ford’s idea about continuous assembly lines, and flow systems.


Early developments


The ideas of having interchangeable parts were not new to Henry Ford; these principles had been used by Eli Whitney to manufacture muskets at the end of the 18th century. In the next century industrial interests focused primarily on: the processes and their interactions, the operation of processes as a system and the tasks of the workers.

The Ford System


Henry Ford’s vision was to “build a car for the great multitude”. The electrification of previously steam driven machinery together with new management and production techniques enabled him to take 20th century mass production to a new level and to produce a Model T in only 93 minutes. Offering high wages, Ford attracted some of the best and most innovative mechanics, some of whom conceived and developed the moving assembly line.

Ford's management approach was influenced by Frederick Taylor's theory of Scientific Management, published in 1911 and Frank Gilbreth’s motion studies. The foundation of Scientific Management is “every action of the worker is pre-planned and directed by the manager”. Workers or “directed labor” are treated as machines, paid to do and not to think. Although Scientific Management allowed Ford to increases productivity so that his Model T was within the reach of the average man, this production system could not survive against later competition from Japanese manufacturing

Lean History Time Line

The Toyota Production System


The next step of this manufacturing revolution began in Japan, with Toyoda family, when they shifted from textile equipment manufacturing to Automobile manufacturing. By late 1940’s Japan industry was collapsed and economy was badly affected by the World War II. In addition, Japanese manufacturers faced many problems. Limited sources of raw materials, labor movements, and limited capital availability are few of them. Meanwhile, automobile manufacturers faced another problem. They could not compete with the already existing forces of west. Especially players like Ford, simply out performed small manufacturers like Toyota. Therefore they could not compete on the overseas markets. This made Japanese manufacturers to produce for their local markets. These markets were very diversified and small.


Challenged by these demands Toyota gave the task of making a system which will stand in these conditions to Taichii Ohno. He with his collegues created a manufacturing system for next three decades, which is known as Toyota Production System.

The roots of this system were clearly linked to the Ford’s system. Actually all the managers in Toyota said to learn the Ford’s system. Fortunately though, they did not simply copy the Ford’s system. Instead they clearly understood strengths and weaknesses of the system and impart the pluses to their system, while eliminating the problems.

Ohno experimented with various ways of setting up the equipment to produce needed items in a timely manner. But he got a whole new perspective on just-in-time production when he visited the United States in 1956. During this study trip, Ohno’s team was impressed by the supermarkets. Japan did not have many self-service stores yet and Ohno marveled at the way customers chose exactly what they wanted and in the quantities that they wanted. Ohno admired the way the supermarkets supplied merchandise in a simple, efficient, and timely manner.

This format, then, was a pull system, driven by the needs of the following lines. It contrasted with conventional push systems, which were driven by the output of preceding lines. Ohno developed a number of tools for operating his production format in a systematic framework.


As Japanese manufacturers took over an increasing share of U.S. markets, Toyota's development of Ford's Production System enabled them to produce better, more innovative and cheaper cars than their U.S. competitors. Japanese manufacturing was investigated in the 1980 NBC documentary If Japan Can... Why Can't We?, which highlighted the work of William Edwards Deming, an American quality systems guru who had been helping Japanese industry rebuild after the war.

Starting from mid 1940s to 1970s Toyota production system was developed continuously. With the economic problems Japan faced in the years 1974, many Japanese companies experienced losses. But Toyota was continue to be a success even in this period. This made many Japanese manufacturers to look in to this system as an alternative to their problems.


Lean Manufacturing and Lean Enterprise


Today, Lean manufacturing has got the next step in its development. Lean manufacturers now become lean enterprisesLean manufacturing stretch out from the factory premises to all of stakeholders. This includes suppliers, customers and all the influencing parties. Lean enterprise concepts are focused on all the people in the supply chain to get the best possible value from the collective effort.

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