Origins and history of Lean - From Ford to Lean start-up

Toyota lean history
Lean was neither created in a day, nor only at Toyota. Here is the history of Lean and how it has evolved from Henry Ford to today.

1913 - Origins of the Lean history: Henry Ford

The history of Lean really begins with Henry Ford who set up a very productive organization around the "Flow" that started with raw materials and ended when the customer left with his car.
Ford was the first to actually implement some of the following Lean concepts (before the word Lean was invented):
  • Standardisation: standardization of product models, associated parts and also production tasks
  • Reduction of wastes: in particular operator movements by minimizing the number of tasks to be performed
  • Just in time: Ford worked on its Supply Chain to get the right amount of materials and parts according to demand

The main criticism made to Ford is that its production process was only dedicated to manufacturing a single product model and did not allow any variation.

1924 - Origins of the Lean history: Toyoda

Sakichi Toyoda founded Toyoda Loom Works, manufacturer of weaving machines. He developed a loom that automatically stops when a yarn breaks. He had just invented the concept of "autonomation", which allows the operator to no longer be directly linked to a machine and can supervise several machines. It introduces the notion of the human being into the production process. This is a key stone in Lean history since this is a major of fundamental of Lean.

1937 - 1962 The evolution in the Lean History : The Toyota Production System (TPS)

1937 - Kiichiro, son of Sakichi, created the automotive division of Toyota Loom Works

It is Toyota that has most evolved the history of Lean since its origins. Toyota first adopted certain production methods from Ford, as well as "autonomation". However, various production problems and Sakichi's passion for process improvement led him to develop methods based on the reduction of wastes (categorized in muda, muri and mura) and on the establishment of "kaizen" workshops.

1945 - Very difficult post-war context in Japan

After the Second World War, the economic situation was difficult with little demand, few spare parts to repair. This will create the conditions for a new evolution in the history of Lean. Toyota pushes the logic of the Jidoka to detect defects as early as possible and not have to repair them.
But productivity remains low, 9 times lower than that of American car manufacturers.

1950 - The turning point in the history of Lean

In 1950, Kiichiro resigned to protest against the layoffs imposed by the banks and was replaced by Taiizo Ishida who reorganized the company with the help of Kiichiro's cousin, Eiji Toyoda.
Eiji, is on a 12-week study trip to the United States during which he visits many American factories, accompanied by a group of engineers including Taiichi Ōno. Eiji and Taiichi are impressed by the American model but realize that they have to adapt it to the Japanese context, which does not have sufficient demand to benefit from scale effects. They then develop Just in Time (JIT), another key stone in the history of Lean. With JIT, it is the real demand that defines the production schedule instead of a forecast, and this at each stage of production. Everything starts from the downstream (the customer) and they develop the Kanban system with carts at each station that contain only a minimum number of parts.

1950 - 1962 - The implementation

Nevertheless, the implementation of this new step in the history of Lean is very progressive. The difficulty is that it is linked to the need to make the operators multi-skilled and to overcome their reticence. So it was not until 1962 that the system was deployed in all of Toyota's plants..

These innovations have greatly contributed to Toyota's success and have become known as the « Toyota Production System (TPS) ».

Here is a video showing the history of the TPS


1973 - 1991 The history of Lean goes international: Progressive adoption in the West

1973 - Oil shock

Japanese industry is heavily affected by the first oil shock, but Toyota is resisting well and is attracting the interest of the government, which is asking Toyota to hold seminars on the TPS to benefit Japanese industry.
A few foreign groups are also beginning to adopt these methodologies, most of the time under their own names.
The first official publication in the history of Lean would be on TPS in 1978. It was written by Taiichi Ohno himself: "Toyota Production System - Aiming at an Off-Scale Management", Tokyo Diamond.

1977 - 1989 Rollout of Just-in-Time in the West

The first publications in Western countries took place in 1977:
  • a first article about Toyota's "famous Ohno system" published in American Machinist and written by A. Ashburn
  • a second article, "Toyota Production System and Kanban System: Materialization of Just-in-time and Respect-for-human System" published in the International Journal of Production Research and written by Y. Sugimori, K. Kusunoki, F. Cho, and S. Uchikawa.

The adoption by Western companies is progressive in the history of Lean. It happens mainly in the 80's, as well as the number of publications on the subject, mainly talking about "Just in Time".

1991 Birth of « Lean » 

The history of Lean became official in 1991. It was in this year that the term "Lean" was born and that many of its principles were formalized. They are in "The Machine That Changed the World" by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos of MIT and in "Lean Thinking" (1996) by the same authors. For example, these works have formalized five principles of Lean:
  1. Define the value
  2. Identify the value flow
  3. Create the flow
  4. Pull the flows
  5. Seeking perfection

Further developments in the history of Lean 

Lean became internationally known and recognized during the 1990s and gradually developed, either in the development of concepts or in other fields of application than production.

A criticism of Lean as defined by Womack, Jones and Roos is its overly technical side, the most visible side of Lean, while the human and cultural aspects are less so.

2001 - « The Toyota Way 2001 »

These criticisms and debates led Toyota, itself at the origin of the Lean story, to (re)formalize its key principles. They were articulated around the two pillars of continuous improvement and respect for people in a document called "The Toyota Way 2001".

2004 - « The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer » by Jeffrey Liker

Jeffrey Liker, professor at the University of Michigan, formalized 14 principles of Lean management in his best seller « The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer ».

Other concepts and new fields of application

In the history of Lean, other concepts have been added. For example, the six-sigma, to form the "Lean Six-sigma".

Lean, originally designed for production, has developed in several other environments, including:
  • The "Lean office" or "Lean service", which deploys the principles of Lean in office activities or processing intangible flows (rather than physical products)
  • "Lean Engineering" or "Lean Development" in Research and Development or Engineering processes
  • "Lean Software Development" in IT development, which has become more or less integrated with "Agile Development" and "Scrum" methods.
  • The "Lean Start up" which makes it possible to create a company more quickly and in particular to deliver the right product to customers earlier and on the first try.

What future in the Lean story?

How will Lean evolve? His death has often been announced, following certain failures, but Lean is still there. Will it be replaced by new concepts such as artificial intelligence, Manufacturing 4.0 digitalization?

History of Lean has yet to be written.

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Monday, 24 June 2024