England Hailed as Birthplace of Lean Manufacturing

04/17/2016 6:520 commentsViews: 526

England, not Japan, is being hailed as the birthplace of Lean Manufacturing and Lean methods and principles. According to John Dennis, Director of Lean Six Sigma Training Ltd, this is the only conclusion that can be drawn from a re-released book on British car manufacturing methods at Morris Motors Ltd in the 1920 and 1930′s. The original 1954 book by Frank G. Woollard called ‘Principles of Mass and Flow Production’ and including ‘Notes on British Methods of Continuous Production’ (from 1925) includes a 2009 commentary and analysis by Bob Emiliani, Professor of Lean Management at the Connecticut State University.

‘Principles of Mass and Flow Production’ explains how lean principles such as Just-in-Time, Pull, Flow, respect for workers, mistake-proofing, continuous improvement and Rapid-Change-Over were introduced with immediate results at the Gosford Street factory in Coventry, England in 1923. Production was increased from 300 engines per week to 1200 engines per week in less than 2 years between 1923 and 1924 and manpower and energy costs were reduced by more than 50% at the same time. Lean production and the associated increase in productivity and quality continued for over a decade until the start of World War 2 when the ‘lean culture’ was halted for the ‘mass-production’ methods required by the government for military planes and tanks. After the war a change in British culture and decades of socialist-leaning governments favouring strong Labour Unions put an end to this Golden-Age of British car manufacturing. It has taken British manufacturing over 60 years to recover back to its Lean roots of 1935!

Japan started its Lean manufacturing methods more than 20 years after England started them however caught up and quickly overtook them with highly efficient Lean enterprises such as the Toyota Production System ( 1955 ). This is how the British lost their early advantage in Lean production and why we now associate ‘Lean’ with Japan instead of England.

By: John Dennis

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