Lean Manufacturing’s Brief History

The origin of lean manufacturing dates back to the early years of the twentieth century, when mass production, which was invented, developed and potentialized in the automotive sector, was transmitted to many industrial sectors. However, a few years later the crisis of the production model that was no longer viable began to occur, because it not only referred 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 ideal of achieving flexibility.

After the 1929 crack, the United States was in an overproduction crisis, which manifested itself in a massive subconsume in the face of the real production capacity of society, this made it necessary to implement fordism, which allowed to create a market for large amounts of accumulated production. In fordism, the control of the work is established 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 realization of an activity.

After World War II there was a major expansion of industries using mass production, supported by American foreign policy, which reacted to economic patterns of increasing aggregate demand and market stability to which they belonged, causing strict bureaucratic structures. However, in the late 1960s, the model began to deteriorate as productivity declined and fixed capital per capita began to increase. For this reason, toyotism began to generate new ideas with engineers and managers, and in the middle of the twentieth century the lean manufacturing philosophy was born in the Toyota Motor Company, specifically in the textile society of the group. In late 1949, a sales collapse forced Toyota to terminate contracts for much of the labor after a long demonstration. In 1950, a young Japanese engineer, Eiji Toyoda, made a three-month trip to Ford’s Rouge plant in Detroit, and realized that the main problem with a production system is waste. Moreover, it was a system that was difficult to apply in Japan at the time because:

  • The Japanese market was very small and required a wide range of various types of cars.
  • Labour laws established by states in the Japanese labour market prevented free dismissal.
  • Toyota and the rest of Japan’s companies had no capital to acquire Western technology and their level did not allow for the cost reduction achieved by American companies.

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

The Japanese became aware of the precariousness of their position on the world economic stage; because devoid of energy raw materials, they could only count on themselves to survive and develop. While a cost-cutting method was used in the North American automotive industry when producing cars in constantly increasing quantities and in a restricted variety of models, Toyota is considering manufacturing, at a good price, small volumes of many different models. That is why they proposed a so-called lean manufacturing toyotist model, which is summarized in the following points:

  • Disposal of waste and just-in-time supply of materials.
  • The relationship, based on trust and transparency, with the suppliers chosen according to their degree of commitment to long-term collaboration.
  • Significant employee participation in production-related decisions: s going to production, intervene in preventive maintenance tasks, provide suggestions for improvement, etc.
  • The objective of total quality, that is, eliminate possible defects as soon as possible and at the time they are detected, including the implementation of elements to certify quality at all times.
Lean Manufacturing’s Brief History
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