Industry Market Trends
Does Lean Manufacturing Work for Small-Run Job Shops?
October 30, 2013
Lean manufacturing tends to be associated with large-scale, mass-production manufacturing. But can smaller-scale job shops benefit from such process-improvement programs as well? Shahrukh Irani, director of industrial engineering research at Hoerbiger, a Swiss manufacturer of automation and drive technologies, believes so. One problem, he told IMT, is that "low-mix, high-volume production was beaten to death because it was handed to us by Toyota." So knowledge about lean implementation is biased toward large manufacturers capable of large runs. Most manufacturers, though, are smaller enterprises. Nearly three-quarters of manufacturing firms have fewer than 20 employees, according to data from the U.S. Census bureau. Such businesses often trend toward contract work and lower-volume production. To remain competitive, the business has to be flexible and resilient, prepared to retool efficiently and move quickly from one job to the next. The Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit organization founded by James P. Womack, says that the core idea behind lean thinking is "to maximize customer value while minimizing waste," in other words, "creating more value for customers with fewer resources." In the 1980s, Womack coined the term "lean" to describe the thinking behind Toyota's highly-successful Toyota Production System (TPS). According to Toyota, TPS is based on two primary principles:
- Jidoka, a Japanese term referring to the TPS rule requiring that the production line come to halt when a problem occurs to prevent the production of defective products.
- Just-in-time, meaning that the firm makes only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed.