The Manufacturing Advancement Center

About MAC
The MAC Action Newsline
Manufacturing our Summit
Upcoming Programs
Resource Library
Contact Us

Send a Letter
to the Editor

Industry News

Book Review – Lean Machine

by Patricia Moody

Toyota and Pinto have become benchmarks for fatal design flaws.  When Dantar Oosterwal wrote The Lean Machine, How Harley-Davidson Drove Top-Line Growth and Profitability with Revolutionary Lean Product Development, he could not have overstated the critical importance of new product development and engineering design in manufacturing and all our supply networks.  Whether it’s brakes or steering or accelerators or gas tank design, all of us have been alarmed by the seemingly clueless approach of manufacturers to good and safe design.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Enter Harley-Davidson, the iconic American manufacturer of motorcycles large and small.  This is where Oosterwal shows us a very different approach from the entire new product engineering and launch process that North American producers and their suppliers have used for decades. 

Why wouldn’t any company want to take advantage of the exponential profit and cycle time improvements that Oosterwal describes?   Don’t results such as the ones that Harley-Davidson realized – development time cut in half and product development throughput increased four times – sound good enough? 

Friends, for the U. S., innovation is our last wide-open frontier – not manufacturing, maybe not supply chain, and probably not distribution.  Taking good ideas and fashioning them into successful profitable new products is where we shine, and we can only get better, according to author Oosterwal. 

And that’s why I loved this book – it’s a real and refreshingly usable gift of insight into an experience with my favorite wild and crazy manufacturing area – new product design, engineering and launch.  The guys who populate these arcane and complex functions weren’t trained to do things quick and dirty, to fix manufacturing problems with a rubber mallet and a two by four, hence the incredible resistance many companies may find when they even hint at the type of revolutionary change Oosterwal describes.

And don’t let the word “lean” in this book deceive you – lean as applied to upstream product development is not about taking out obvious wastes to the point of corporate anorexia – it’s about being sensible and precise, and dare we say it – creative – before designs lock into formulaic and rigid identities that take products down the wrong paths.  For example, when Oosterwal’s mentor Dr. Allen Ward described Toyota’s development process, he wanted to make it clear to managers how their approach emphasized knowledge first.  This example clearly illustrated just what knowledge-based product development is.

The exhaust systems example on page 176 gets to the heart of how this system works. Oosterwal cites the development of exhaust systems that Ward had uncovered in his research.  Ward explained that Toyota may design and test fifty rudimentary muffler systems early in a new card design to build knowledge.  Through the set-based development process, Toyota would give their suppliers loose requirements and ask them to build many different systems.  These early basic prototypes were used only to explore the limits of the possibilities for the system.  The intent was to gain knowledge by defining the trade-off parameters and the failure limits.  The data were expressed visually to capture knowledge, which was passed from project to project as each new project used previously developed knowledge and added to the organization’s knowledge and understanding. * 

How very different this approach is to the methodology that locks in designs and supplier parts very early in the cycle, after which problems lead to endless rework loops, quality problems, and worse.

The Lean Machine is an important and revolutionary book that will be extremely important to all engineers, new product development managers and CEO’s, and consultants.  Other books in this area include Mike Kennedy’s cult classic Product Development for the Lean Enterprise, Why Toyota’s System is Four Times More Productive and How You Can Implement It, now just known as “The Blue Book,” and the incomprehensible book originally issued by Dr. Allen Ward before his untimely death.   Of these three seminal works, Oosterwal’s new book is my favorite because it’s at the right level, has a tolerable mix of stories and cost curves, with even a few formulas thrown in, it makes sense to C-suite guys, and shows the process through real experience, which is the true and only way to build credibility with tough customers like new product and design engineers.


Have an Opinion?
Have an opinion to share? Send a Letter to the Editor.


Home | About MAC | The MAC Action Newsline | Manufacturing Our Future Summit
Upcoming Programs | Toolbox | Resource Library | Partners | Contact Us

© Copyright , Manufacturing Advancement Center
100 Grove Street, Worcester, MA 01605, USA, Privacy Policy
Developed by Telesian Technology