Today’s Wall Street Journal’s Business section has an article analyzing the risks of lean manufacturing, as seen in the recent multi-model recall by Toyota. Unfortunately this article is behind the WSJ’s paywall, but the summary of the article makes an interesting point: While standardizing parts and processes across many products provides greater productivity, any quality problems will be devastating. Of course, one of the major tenets of lean manufacturing is zero defects. Unfortunately Toyota’s defect didn’t show up early enough to be corrected in the production process.
In my experience with lean manufacturing, mostly from graduate courses about improving production processes and product quality, the downside/risk of lean is minimized. After all, what could be wrong with a methodology that aims for low inventory (and low inventory holding costs), high quality products, and more efficient production? This additional perspective about inherent risks provides a more realistic picture of lean manufacturing.
* As a side note, I think this article is a great example of good use of a paywall because it goes beyond reporting the news to providing an analysis of it that I haven’t seen in other news outlets.