Just-In-Time, Toyota Production
System & Lean Manufacturing
A Brief History of (Just-In-) Time
Lean Manufacturing is not especially new. It derives from the Toyota Production System or
Just In Time Production, Henry Ford and other predecessors.
The lineage of Lean manufacturing and Just In Time (JIT) Production goes back to Eli Whitney
and the concept of interchangeable parts. This article traces the high points of that long
Originator of interchangeable parts.
Eli Whitney is most famous as the inventor of the cotton gin. However, the gin was a minor
accomplishment compared to his perfection of interchangeable parts. Whitney developed this about
1799 when he took a contract from the U.S. Army for the manufacture of 10,000 muskets at the
unbelievably low price of $13.40 each.
For the next 100 years manufacturers primarily concerned themselves with individual
technologies. During this time our system of engineering drawings developed, modern machine
tools were perfected and large scale processes such as the Bessemer process for making steel
held the center of attention.
As products moved from one discrete process to the next through the logistics system and
within factories, few people concerned themselves with:
What happened between processes
How multiple processes were arranged within the factory
How the chain of processes functioned as a system.
How each worker went about a task
Frederick W. Taylor
Originator of Scientific Management.
changed in the late 1890's with the work of early Industrial Engineers.
Frederick W. Taylor began to look at individual workers and work methods. The result was Time
Study and standardized work. He called his ideas Scientific Management. Taylor was a controversial figure. The concept of applying science to management was sound but Taylor simply
ignored the behavioral sciences. In addition, he had a peculiar attitude towards factory
Frank Gilbreth (Cheaper By The Dozen) added Motion Study and invented Process Charting.
Process charts focused attention on all
work elements including those non-value added elements which normally occur between the
Frank & Lillian Gilbreth
Early Industrial engineers and inventors of Process
Lillian Gilbreth brought psychology into the mix by studying the motivations of workers and
how attitudes affected the outcome of a process. There were, of course, many other contributors.
These were the people who originated the idea of "eliminating waste", a key tenet of JIT and
And then, there was Henry Ford.
Starting about 1910, Ford and his right-hand-man,
Charles E. Sorensen, fashioned the first comprehensive Manufacturing
Strategy. They took all the elements of a
manufacturing system-- people, machines, tooling, and products-- and arranged them in a
continuous system for manufacturing the Model T automobile. Ford was so incredibly successful he
quickly became one of the world's richest men and put the world on wheels. Ford is considered by
many to be the first practitioner of Just In Time and Lean Manufacturing.
Ford's success inspired many others to copy his methods. But most of those who copied did not
understand the fundamentals. Ford assembly lines were often employed for products and processes
that were unsuitable for them.
It is even doubtful that Henry Ford himself fully understood what he had done and why it was
so successful. When the world began to change, the Ford system began to break down and Henry
Ford refused to change the system.
For example, Ford production depended on a labor force that was so desperate for money and
jobs that workers would sacrifice their dignity and self esteem. (See
Maslow & Motivation) The prosperity of the 1920's
and the advent of labor unions produced conflict with the Ford system. Product proliferation
also put strains on the Ford system. Annual model changes, multiple colors, and options did not
fit well in Ford factories.
At General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan took a more pragmatic approach. He developed business and
manufacturing strategies for managing very large enterprises and dealing with variety. By
the mid 1930's General Motors had passed Ford in domination of the automotive market. Yet, many
elements of Ford production were sound, even in the new age. Ford methods were a deciding factor
in the Allied victory of World War II.
Ironically, Henry Ford hated war and refused to build armaments long after war was
inevitable. However, when Ford plants finally retooled for war production, they did so on a
fantastic scale as epitomized by the Willow Run Bomber plant that built
"A bomber An Hour."
Toyota Production System
The Allied victory and the massive quantities of material behind it (see "A
Bomber An Hour") caught the attention of Japanese industrialists. They studied American
production methods with particular attention to Ford practices and the Statistical Quality
Control practices of Ishikawa, Edwards Deming, and Joseph Juran.
One of the originators of the Toyota Production
The Toyota people also recognized that the Ford system had contradictions and shortcomings,
particularly with respect to employees. With General Douglas MacAurthur actively promoting labor
unions in the occupation years, Ford's harsh attitudes and demeaning job structures were
unworkable in post-war Japan. They were also unworkable in the American context, but that would
not be evident for some years. America's "Greatest Generation" carried over attitudes from the
Great Depression that made the system work in spite of its defects.
Toyota soon discovered that factory workers had far more to contribute than just muscle
power. This discovery probably originated in the Quality Circle movement. Ishikawa,
Deming, and Juran all made major contributions to the quality movement. It culminated in
team development and
Another key discovery involved product variety. The Ford system was built around a single,
never changing product. It did not cope well with multiple or new products.
Pioneer of TPS & Industrial Engineer
at Ohno's suggestion, went to work on the setup and changeover problem.
Reducing setups to minutes and seconds allowed
small batches and an almost continuous flow
like the original Ford concept. It introduced a flexibility that Henry Ford thought he did not
All of this took place between about 1949 and 1975. To some extent it spread to other
Japanese companies. When the productivity and quality gains became evident to the outside world,
American executives traveled to Japan to study it.
They brought back, mostly, the superficial aspects like kanban cards and quality circles.
Most early attempts to emulate Toyota failed because they were not integrated into a complete
system and because few understood the underlying principles.
Norman Bodek first published the works of
Shingo and Ohno in English. He did much to transfer this knowledge and build awareness in the
Western world. Robert Hall and Richard Schonberger also wrote popular books.
World Class Manufacturing
By the 1980's some American manufacturers, such as Omark Industries, General Electric and
Kawasaki (Lincoln, Nebraska) were achieving success.
Consultants took up the campaign and acronyms sprouted like weeds:
World Class Manufacturing (WCM),
Stockless Production, Continuous Flow Manufacturing (CFM), and many other names all referred to
systems that were, essentially, Toyota Production.
Gradually, a knowledge and experience base developed and success stories became more
collaborator of James Womack and reputed originator of the
term "Lean Manufacturing."
In 1990 James Womack wrote a book called "The
Machine That Changed The World". Womack's book was a straightforward account of the history
of automobile manufacturing combined with a comparative study of Japanese, American, and
European automotive assembly plants. What was new was a phrase-- "Lean Manufacturing."
Lean Manufacturing caught the imagination of manufacturing people in many countries.
Lean implementations are now commonplace. The
knowledge and experience base is expanding rapidly.
The essential elements of Lean Manufacturing are described at our page "Principles
of Lean Manufacturing." They do not substantially differ from the techniques developed by
Ohno, Shingo and the people at Toyota. The application in any specific factory does change. Just
as many firms copied Ford techniques in slavish and unthinking ways, many firms copy Toyota's
techniques in slavish and unthinking ways and with poor results. Our series of articles on
implementation includes a "Mental Model"
to assist the thinking process and guidance on strategy and planning.
Lean Manufacturing Timeline
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There is no cookbook for manufacturing. Each firm has its own unique set of products,
processes, people, and history. While certain principles may be immutable, their application is
not. Manufacturing Strategy will always
be a difficult, uncertain, and individual process. Strategy
("The General's Art") is still, largely, an art. But, that should not prevent us from bringing
the available science to bear on the problem.