Lean Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing History

The lean manufacturing started in the early 20th century when mass production was transmitted to many industrial sectors, which was invented, developed and boosted in the automotive sector. However, a few years later the production model would not be longer viable because it did not only refer to the production of large quantities of objects, but to a whole system of technologies, markets, economies of scale and strict rules that clashed with the idea of achieving flexibility.

After the crash on 1929, the United States was in a crisis of overproduction, which manifested itself in a massive over consumption compared to the real capacity of production of factories. This made it necessary to implement Fordism, which allowed to create a market for larger quantities of product accumulated. Fordism is based on the control of the work by rules incorporated into an automatic device of the machines, that is, the movement of the machines coordinates the required operation and the time established for the performance of an activity.

After the Second World War, there was a great expansion of the industries that used mass production, supported by the North American foreign policy, which reacted to economic patterns of increase in aggregate demand and the stability of the market to which they belonged, which It caused strict bureaucratic structures. However, at the end of the 1960s, the model began to deteriorate as productivity declined and fixed capital per capita began to rise sharply. For this reason, the Toyotism began to generate new ideas with engineers and managers, and in the mid-twentieth century, the lean manufacturing philosophy was born in the Toyota Motor Company, especially in the Toyota’s textile section.

At the end of 1949, a collapse in sales forced Toyota to terminate contracts for a large part of the workforce after many protests. In 1950, a young Japanese engineer, Eiji Toyoda, made a trip of three months to the Ford Rouge plant in Detroit and realized that the main problem of a production system is waste. In addition, it was a system hardly applicable in Japan at that time because:

  • The Japanese market was very small and demanded a wide range of various types of cars.
  • The labor laws established by the state in the Japanese labor market impeded free dismissal.
  • Toyota and the rest of the Japanese companies did not have the capital to acquire Western technology and their level did not allow the reduction of costs reached by the North American companies.

When the oil crisis of 1973 ended, the new lean manufacturing adjusted production system was positioned in many sectors, so that it began to transform the global economic life by spreading Toyotaism as a substitute for Fordism and Taylorism. The purpose of this new way of working was to eliminate all the unnecessary elements in the production area in order to reduce costs, fulfilling the requirements of the clients.

The Japanese became aware of the precariousness of their position in the world economic scenario; since they lacked energy raw materials, they could only count on themselves to survive and develop. While the North American automobile industry used a cost reduction method to produce automobiles in constantly increasing quantities and in a restricted variety of models, in Toyota, the manufacturing was set at a good price and small volumes of many different models. That is why they raised a so-called Toyotist model of lean manufacturing, which is summarized in the following points:

  • Elimination of waste and just-in-time supply of materials.
  • The relationship, based on trust and transparency, with the chosen suppliers based on their degree of commitment to long-term collaboration.
  • An important participation of employees in decisions related to production: stop production, intervene in preventive maintenance tasks, provide suggestions for improvement, etc.
  • The objective of total quality, that is, to eliminate possible defects as soon as possible and at the moment they are detected, including the implementation of elements to certify quality at all times.


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