The origins of lean manufacturing

Lean manufacturing has a long and distinguished past, even more so than many people realize. While many associate the concept with Toyota Motors, the concept actually dates back to Venice, Italy in the 1450s. While the concept has been adopted and replicated by many companies today, it has been adjusted and improved by a few key individuals over time.


Lean History in a Snapshot

Lean’s origins may have started in the 1400s, but key developments didn’t happen until much later in the 1700s and beyond. At the turn of the 18th century, Eli Whitney introduced the idea of interchangeable components in products, which made outfitting and repairing products much easier. It also improved product lifespan. More than 100 years later, another breakthrough arrived with Henry Ford. Ford experimented with moving and interchanging parts to create uniformity in standard and design. The introduction of the Toyota Production System in the 1930s after World War II changed emphasis from products made by individual machinery to looking at the total process as a whole. The goal of the Toyota Production System is to improve product quality while reducing production costs and minimizing production time. The end goal is to make production more efficient for companies while satisfying customer demand.


Key Contributors

While lean’s history includes several major milestones, its development and growth can also be attributed to several notable individuals.


Frederick Taylor

Frederick Taylor is nicknamed the “father of scientific management” for good reason. In the 1890s, he decided to study the workers and work methods in factory production. Following his observations, he devised concepts to improve factory processes such as work standardization, motion studies, time studies, and more to make work methods, operations, and processes as efficient as possible.


Henry Ford

In the early 1900s, Henry Ford is credited with creating the manufacturing strategy, which called for arranging all resources used in production(equipment, people, machines, tools, and products) in such a way that they created a continuous flow of production. His work earned him the distinction of being the first American to advocate for waste reduction. Ford used his own strategies and techniques to produce the Model T, which quickly became one of the most popular cars in the country.


Sakichi Toyoda

Sakichi Toyoda was one of the main sources of inspiration behind the Toyota Production System. He devised the Toyota Production System with the intent of eliminating wastes by utilizing the jidoka concept. Toyoda also started using the automatic loom in production processes in the late 1890s. With this new system, he replaced manual labor and made processes more efficient and effective. The jidoka process is also recognized as a valuable tool to detect problems and stop them before they get worse.


Kiichiro Toyota

Kiichiro Toyota was the second president and founder of Toyota Motor Corporation. He also founded Toyota Motor Corporation in 1937, which is renowned worldwide today. From the jidoka philosophy, Toyota developed the just-in-time (JIT) concept that is widely used and respected in production today. The inspiration for the Toyota Production System came after a visit to the original Ford production plant based in Michigan.


Taichi Ohno

Taichi Ohno combined the JIT system and the jidoka system. He created the kanban system after visiting Ford in the 1950s. The kanban system, which is also still widely used today, ensures that quality is used with each step in the process during production.


Shigeo Shingo

Shigeo Shingo was a consultant at Toyota and an industrial engineer who created the Kaizen concept. Shingo created Kaizen with the goal of integrating people with efficient and effective processes. In 1960, Shingo created a system designed to have no defects in any products.


To learn more about lean manufacturing, ask the knowledgeable staff at C Tek for more details.