Is Lean Manufacturing in the Job Shop Undergoing a Transformation?

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As a small job shop owner, I’ve always looked at lean manufacturing as a collection of management and manufacturing tools unified by an overarching philosophy. However, what Toyota may have developed for a large, integrated manufacturing company does not always translate well into a job shop environment. I’ve felt that in a job shop, you need to pick the appropriate lean tools or your lean implementation will fail, as the shop floor quickly decides on the relevancy of any program introduced to change the manufacturing environment. If the tools make sense, they will be embraced. Doing this, we’ve successfully employed a number of lean tools over the past ten years. You can pick from the lean buffet if you know what you want to do and how you will measure the results.

In the past few weeks, I’ve read one article on the changing economy’s negative impact on lean, another on the need for small companies to focus on agility instead of lean , and then an argument against both these opinions. I am a firm believer that lean manufacturing needs to adapt to the circumstances, not the other way around. Lean principles and philosophy can be applied in many different environments, but the use of lean must evolve from first principles to fit that environment. The same concept should also be applied to six sigma and theory of constraints, both of which we also employ at Graphicast. In our operation, we use theory of  constraints as our overarching management philosophy, with lean and six sigma methods employed to reduce waste and process variation. We use throughput accounting methods as our mangerial accounting platform to measure the financial impact of our changes.

I’m pleased to see people openly discussing the difficulties of employing “big company” methods in the job shop, and the need to adapt these methods to the small shop to gain the greatest benefit. We need more voices in this discussion,