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Lean Manufacturing History

1799 - Eli Whitney implements the concept of interchangeable parts when he produces 10,000 muskets for the Army.

1890’s – Frederick Taylor studies work methods and creates his system of Scientific Management.

1910’s – Henry Ford takes the elements of a manufacturing system (man, methods, machines, tooling, etc.) and puts them together in a continuous flow to produce the Model-T. Ford’s moving production line decreases car assembly time by approximately 90% and he quickly becomes one of the richest men in the world. Ford lays the foundation for Lean.

1956 – Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, travels to America to visit automotive plants and learn about just-in-time manufacturing.

Taiichi OhnoTaiichi Ohno

But it was other visits that caught Ohno’s attention. He visited a supermarket where he was amazed at the way customers chose exactly what they wanted and in the quantity that they wanted.

He admired the way the supermarkets replenished products only when the customer removed product from the shelf. 

He witnessed, and subsequently implemented at Toyota, the concept of customer “pull”.

Ohno also attended the Indianapolis 500 Auto Race where he learned the concept of “quick changeover” by watching how the pit crews worked.

Ohno, learning from the U.S., took his lean thinking and kept making improvements to the Toyota Production System. Rising from the machine shop he eventually became company president.

1970’s - American auto makers are experiencing major de-stabilization. Industry experts rush to see how Toyota is manufacturing and shipping cars to the U.S. and selling them faster and cheaper than U.S. made vehicles.

Big tariffs and import restrictions don't stop the flow of these cheap and dependable vehicles created with lean production techniques. Experts also note that their quality and innovation are increasing at a rapid rate.


1990 - Lean manufacturing history is decades old when a five-year, $5 million study conducted by the MIT International Motor Vehicle Program concludes that lean production techniques, developed in Japan over the last 40 years, will replace mass production worldwide and revolutionize manufacturing, especially in the automobile industry.

The results of the study are put into a book titled “The Machine that Changed the World” by James Womack.

In the book Womack uses the term “Lean Production” for the first time in the U.S. to describe the Toyota Production System and the lean process.

2000 through Today - companies rapidly begin moving towards the concept of the Lean Manufacturing and the Lean Enterprise.

In the Lean Enterprise the methods extend beyond factory floors and move into all business operations including transactional processes.

Constantly improving methods and techniques assure that Lean Manufacturing History will continue to be written.


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