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Letter to the Editor

Lean vs Detroit: The Toyota Production System

Thanks so much for keeping me in the loop on your newsletter. I enjoy it very much. Every state that is doing anything in manufacturing should have a Jack Healy doing this sort of thing.

Naturally, the big news is what is happening to GM, Ford, and Chrysler while Toyota and Honda steam ahead. To me, it is a failure on the part of these companies to recognize what Toyota has really done and that was to design and implement a new MSD (manufacturing system design).

New MSDs come along about every 60 years. The job shop arrived about 1860 (called the American Armory System – it was big in New England), followed by the flow shop about 1913-20 (called the Ford system and later "mass production"). Toyota developed the lean shop (linked manufacturing and subassembly cells) about 1960-70 and it is firmly planted in the US, at least here in Alabama.

There are now a ton of folks out there selling lean solutions to your problems but your data (and others) show that few have adopted lean. Some cannot do it because of leadership issues. The guy at the top has to have the balls to undertake the journey. It is a change in the DESIGN of the MFGSYSTEM that will ultimately impact all segments of the enterprise (management and staff). Thus, many will fight it even as their companies are losing market share year after year, like GM and Ford and Chrysler.

The change in the MSD created a simpler manufacturing system in which everyone who works in the system understands how the system works and what happens when they mess up. A simple system to make complex goods. So simple, it runs with few instructions (visual controls) and simple rules. The processes can be complex and sophisticated, but the system simple and self-controlling. Thus there is less need for folks in the enterprize (middle management). So, GM and, in particular, Ford will have a hard time changing their systems while the newcomers see the Toyota Production System as the best way to compete in the manufacturing world.

JT Black
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Manufacturing Systems
Professor Emeritus, Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama

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