Posted by: malcolmjones | August 7, 2009

Lean Evolution

The Evolution of Lean

I was given a new video recently showing the Canon ‘Meister’ System – in Canon factories they are replacing the final assembly line with trained ‘Meisters’, workers who can assemble a whole printer or photocopier themselves, quicker and better than an assembly line can!  The lady on the video signs each machine at the end of the assembly process – as she says “I made this”.

Canon have always been an advanced implementer of Lean concepts – in the 1990’s I had a video of the ‘Canon Production System’ which the company later withdrew and asked us to stop using as it became out of date.  Two things strike me about that video – firstly it was made in the 1980’s but contained an environmental message even then – they talked of waste as a ‘waste of the earth’s resources’ and secondly, even though it was withdrawn as out of date it would not seem out of place in most Lean seminars in the West even today.

The video perhaps shows how we missed the importance of the second pillar of the Toyota Production System – Jidoka.  Much Western Lean theory describes what Toyota called Just-in-Time, the other pillar of TPS, but there is less emphasis on Jidoka, and even some dispute as to what it really means.

In my mind, Jidoka starts with the idea of separating people from machines – people do human work and machines do machine work.  I take this idea further to separating people from the process, so we don’t think of one person attached to one assembly task, but working flexibly in an assembly cell.  The ‘Meister’ system takes this even further – one person can do all the assembly tasks, with all the benefits of one person owning the process.

So we have gone full circle in less than 100 years.  Henry Ford invented the assembly line to achieve efficiency in 1913 and Canon have now uninvented it.  One thing Canon haven’t changed is that assembly is still a standardised process, relying on work being done to a standard sequence.  This fits in with the idea that lean evolves, based on standard work and experimentation, as outlined by Professor Fujimoto in his study ‘The Evolution of a Manufacturing System at Toyota’.

As Professor Fujimoto says, TPS evolved rather than being designed.  Canon show how it is still evolving.  The question for us in the West is whether we should stop trying to design lean systems, but instead learn how to enable them to evolve.

Malcolm Jones
Productivity Europe – United Kingdom
m.jones@productivityeurope.org


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