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Feb 27, 2010

Lean Manufacturing

One of the earliest examples of lean manufacture is that of renaissance shipbuilding at the Arsenal in 16th century Venice. Over 3,000 workers and apprentices were organized by the state to manufacture boats that were part of the Venetians prosperity. The division of labour from expert trades to support roles and training programmes predated the industrial revolution in the 18th century.

War and the military took a huge part in the development of Lean Manufacturing. The 18th century saw the introduction of interchangeable parts for weapons. Prior to this gunsmiths and craftsmen made individual "one off" weapons, which either had to be repaired or discarded. In 1778 Honoré Blanc showed that muskets could be made from interchangeable parts. This was built on by many others including Simeon North and John Hall who produced complex machines having preformed castings that were then machined. Other supporting technologies such as measuring gauges were developed during the 19th century.
Simon Colt, famous for his revolver published a patent on the "improvement to firearms" in 1836 . The Colt Patent Arms Company Hartford gun factory was the prototype for America's Industrial Revolution. It had lines of steam powered belt driven machines with individuals working on one piece of it. Then these were taken to another part for assembly.
In the early 19th century, the father of the great British engineer Isambard Brunel, Marc Brunel introduced a new process for making rope pulley using machines and unskilled labour that was 10 times more productive.
Chicago developed cattle disassembly lines that reduced a butchers time of 3 hours to minutes. These lines had 120 workers that killed, cut up and packed. The supply chain of cowboys and railways brought in 10 million cattle a year. Henry Ford is believed to have studied the lines and based his lines on the principles.
At the end of the 19th century Sakichi Toyoda introduce the first automatic loom, that continually developed over the next three decades. The lean concept of Jidoka - or "automation with a human touch" was born. The looms stopped when there was a problem, so no defective parts and many looms could be run by one operator.
Frederic Taylor developed scientific management and many of the industrial engineering tools. He replaced old habits and rules of thumb by analysis and trials. One concept was understanding what a "first-class man" could do. His thinking included "time and motion" studies, standardization of tools and materials, method simplification, selection and training of workers, measurement and benchmarking of performance. He also spoke of his desire for management and labour to work together for their mutual benefit.
Taylors thinking was taken to the next level by Henry Ford. A great believer in continuous improvement the original 14 hours for a car was reduced to 1 hour 30 mins. There was great level of dedication in the lines, such that only one type of car could be produced - in black. However it did allow him to reduce the price of a car from $1,000 to $360. There were other issues with Fordism, the lack of flexibility, demeaning job roles and harsh management of worker. Other companies built on these weaknesses.
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