Where Does Lean Manufacturing Come From?

Lean Manufacturing is a term that was coined in the 1980's by Womack and Jones in their book "the machine that changed the world". It was used to westernize what was then Known as the Toyota Production System or TPS. However the origins of lean manufacturing go back way before Toyota.

Toyota themselves readily admit that they themselves based a lot of what they developed initially on the works of Henry Ford and his production lines.

Lean as we know it today however is very much based on what we in the west have learned from Toyota.

Lean Manufacturing Principles

The Principles of Lean Manufacturing;

The following principles form the backbone of the lean philosophy;

  1. Specify Value as defined by the Customer.
  2. Identify and create a value stream.
  3. Make the value flow from raw materials through to the customer.
  4. Pull production not Push.
  5. Strive for Perfection.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Based on the principles listed above, lean manufacturing is defining value as perceived by the customer and then making that value flow at the pull of the customer whilst striving for perfection. However lean is far more than that;

Lean is an overall philosophy that requires you to involve each and every one of your staff in continually improving your processes through Kaizen and other initiatives. It requires you to not only involve your people but to respect them.

Lean is about preventing waste by creating streams of value that deliver what the customer wants when they want it, not stock piling masses of inventory.

The term Just in Time Manufacturing is part of Lean Manufacturing and it is about developing processes that work based on the customer pulling production from the process and that production not being delayed or held up in inventory.

What is Lean Manufacturing Not?

Lean is not about removing people from the business, too many people see this as a short term cost cutting exercise to make things more efficient and eliminate excess labor. The whole point of making things more efficient, cheaper, more reliable, quicker, etc is to help you not only satisfy your existing customers but to win new ones, new customers that will require your "excess" staff!

Lean is not just waste elimination and making things more efficient; too many consultants come in and just cut everything to the bone to make quick cost savings without any true idea of what the customer needs, these implementations quickly unravel and the consultant blames all on management support!

Lean and Six Sigma.

Lean and six sigma are often seen as competing philosophies but in fact they are perfect bed fellows, the skills and tools of each complementing the other. Hence the drive in some circles to implement "lean Sigma". Lean is about ensuring that processes are repeatable and controlled to prevent defects from occurring, whereas six sigma is about taking these processes and reducing their variation to produce more reliable products and services.