The basic concepts of Lean manufacturing have a very long history, going back many hundreds of years. These concepts include waste reduction, improved efficiency, and more. Lean as we see it today, however, really got its start in the early 1900’s. While many people credit the Toyota Motor Company for most of the major manufacturing innovations, it was actually Ford that really initialized the Lean manufacturing revolution.
Ford’s Assembly Line
Henry Ford used what are now known as Lean manufacturing strategies to build the Model T automobile. This started in 1913 when Ford developed what he called ‘Flow Production.’ This is the assembly line where he made it possible to quickly complete tasks on the assembly line, allowing each employee to specialize in their specific task. This process also standardized the products that were being used so there was far less variation and defects in the end product than would otherwise be possible.
Toyota Motor Company
While Ford got the Lean manufacturing concepts started, Toyota really took them to the next level. In the 1930’s, Kiichiro Toyoda actually visited the Ford manufacturing facilities and observed the innovative flow production process. He saw that while this process was incredibly effective, it didn’t allow for sufficient variation and adjustment. To resolve that issue, Toyota developed the Toyota Production System, which is today recognized as one of the most revolutionary systems in all of manufacturing.
Lean Manufacturing Growth
Once the Toyota Production System was in place, companies around the world learned from it and added it to their own manufacturing processes. Whether formally or informally, almost all large-scale manufacturing facilities today use some form of the TPS and Lean manufacturing. Of course, those that follow the standards now associated with Lean manufacturing are able to get the best possible results with the least amount of waste. No matter what type of manufacturing is being done today, however, they owe a great debt of gratitude to both the Ford and the Toyota automobile companies.