David Alkire Smith - His Opinion on Lean

What Is Lean Manufacturing

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 Lean Manufacturing Perhaps a Third Order Fiction

Good Manufacturing Practes may Date to Antiquity

What is Lean?

Some American references to lean point to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), an engineering society as the leader in training about lean.  SME was the American Society of Tool Engineers (ASTE).  SME is presently operates after the model of a good business.  If any service offered does not make a profit it is waste and hence to be eliminated.  SME is chartered as a not for profit engineering society that exists to serve the needs of its members.  

Keep Terms Simple

Rational thinking should rely on facts and not on abstract concepts that cannot be defined.  Perhaps lean is another term for good manufacturing practices.  If it is, just say so... do not use a buzzword when a simple word or term is sufficient. 

If lean is another term for good manufacturing practices, simply say so. It is an unfortunate choice because lean has many meanings in English.  The term lean can mean anything a state of angularity to a condition of the economy.  Some synonyms include spare, skinny, scrawny, lank, lanky, rawboned, and gaunt.

Toyota and Lean

If we attribute the idea behind lean manufacturing started in earnest at Toyota, where did they get the idea?  It is in large part from the writings and manufacturing practices of Henry Ford.  The next question concerns Henry Ford's background and where he developed his methods.

Henry Ford and the Assembly Line

Henry was the son of a successful Michigan farmer.  Henry went to Detroit to pursue manufacturing and get a hand on education as both a machinist and especially a watchmaker.  In Detroit Ford worked as a lad for low wages and had to work two jobs just to pay his board.  Ford investigated stamped watch parts and a possible application watch production.  To Ford, good tooling and mass production could produce a low cost watch for the masses.

However, unlike many people with a dream he did his own marketing research and found watch companies had been using mass produced interchangeable parts and an assembly line to produce watches at a cost he could not hope to compete with.  In fact, the assembly line technique at watchmakers dated to the mid 1800s.  His self study education as a watchmaker and investigation of mass production and marketing led him to look for a product that the masses would want just like the Waltham affordable watch.  The concept of applying the mass production and assembly line methods of watches to a standardized design of mass-produced automobile was Ford's key to success. 

Lean manufacturing has been around industrial settings for years, but it is a relatively recent addition to the electronics manufacturing and other sectors of the economy.  Sometimes known as the Toyota Production System, named after the automaker that first popularized this approach to product assembly, lean manufacturing seeks to eliminate waste and increase value throughout the supply chain.  By definition, waste is any activity for which the customer is unwilling to pay.

Idle time, overproduction, product defects, inefficient machine processes are just some headaches manufacturers face.  In the past, process engineers tolerated idle time and allowed overproduction as the inevitable side effects of mass production.  Engineers wrestled with reducing product defects and improving machine process efficiency.  However, times have changed to such an extent that manufacturers can no longer suffer any form of waste or inefficiency.

A Lesson for Today

The writer has no problem with the use of Japanese terms and ideas.  Indeed Toyota was faced with producing products with very limited resources after the devastation of WW-II.  The Japanese freely adopted statistical process control (SPC) and other methods of producing efficiently that Americans and other nations had developed but failed to follow.

Henry Ford is perhaps the greatest single figure of the twentieth century.  Ford was unaffected by fear or the idea that anything was impossible.  Please take note that Ford took care to study history before proceeding.  Ford left a legacy for those who would follow him in his writings as well as Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.   

Learn from History

Henry Ford left the complex at Greenfield Village not as a moment to himself.  He realized that much of what is taught from grade school through advanced university training about technology development concerning manufacturing and invention is fiction.  Some Internet links are listed for those interested in the study of the history of Technology. 

Society for the History of Technology (SHOT)

Society for Industrial Archeology.(SIA)

The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors

Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum

For information or comments contact:

David A. Smith


Smith & Associates

530 Hollywood Drive

Monroe, Michigan 48162-2943

Phone: (734) 242-5589

E-Mail: dsmith@smithassoc.com


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