When to Use "Kaizen Events" to Achieve and Sustain Results

This is a perennial topic in all groups related to Lean.  In the TPS principles and practice discussion group on LinkedInBertrand Olivar and Kris Hallan recently started new discussions on the sustainability of Kaizen event results and on the means of achieving them. Most contributors hold extreme positions, the majority saying that Kaizen events are a panacea, and a growing minority that they are worthless.

In this you-are-with-us-or-against-us atmosphere, it is a challenge to get a hearing for the nuanced position I hold, which I summarize as follows:

  1. Kaizen events are not part of TPS
  2. Kaizen events are a valuable tool
  3. Kaizen events are not a panacea.
  4. Content should dictate how projects are managed, not the other way around.

Because it is a recurring topic, I have already accumulated the a trail of posts about it, that are referenced at the end.

1. The Consequences of Vocabulary Engineering

As Larry Miller pointed out in the discussion, "Kaizen Events" are not part of TPS and the term is a made-in-America misnomer. I think "Kaizen Blitz" is an even more bizarre combination of Japanese and German words, since it literally means "lightning strike of continuous improvement. As Steve Milner pointed out, Kaizen Events have their uses, but the reason they caught on like wild fire in the US is the promise of instant gratification. Of course, if Kaizen Events are all you do, they don't deliver on that promise, because there are so many other things you need to do to make sustainable improvements that don't fit in that rigid format. Try standardizing the heights of 300 dies, for example.

Vocabulary engineering has consequences. A wrong label that becomes popular crowds out the real thing. One key reason so few companies actually practice Kaizen in the US is that their managers believe they do, because they are running Kaizen events by the dozen in every plant every year. The French have done even worse: by calling such workshops "Hoshin Events," they have made it impossible to communicate with French managers about Hoshin planning.

2. The "Kaizen Event" as a Project Management Template

Adopting a policy of doing all your improvement work through Kaizen Events is choosing how you are going to run projects before knowing what they are. It is putting the cart before the horse. You should decide which projects you want to undertake first, and then choose an appropriate implementation approach based on project content.

If it is a good fit, you can do it as a Kaizen event. If it is too small, too large, requires the cooperation of too many entities, or has built-in time constraints, you should use a different method.

Simultaneously making tangible improvements and learning new skills is the purpose of continuous improvement. The real question is of when and why use "Kaizen events" as a project management templates, as opposed to others, such as suggestion systems, circles, or task forces. Again, the problem with many organizations is not that they do "Kaizen events" but that they don't do anything else, regardless of need.

3. The Purpose of "Kaizen Events"

Kris Hallan cited the following story from Lean Thinking:

In the story, WireMold is wanting to bring in Shingijutsu consultants to help them. Shingijutsu came by to see if they would be good partners. To test this, they told them that their machine cell was moving backwards and that they needed to move the machine to the other side of the cell. Wiremold made the move that day and this showed the consultants that they were willing to make change. They partnered up and the rest is history. This strikes me because I probably have 1 in 10 leaders who would/could move that equipment that quickly regardless of how well convinced they were that it was a good idea. They would see that type of change as being something that takes time and requires approvals. They would be focusing on a culture of CYA. This is the main purpose of a “kaizen event” in my mind.

The example Kris brings up,  of changing the direction of flow in a cell, is interesting because the Shingijutsu counterclockwise zealotry really is an appeal to faith rather than science. Even at Toyota, there is left-to-right flow in production lines. When challenged about this, I heard Chihiro Nakao say that counterclockwise flow was better because people were right-handed and lathes always had the headstock on the left side. Well, obviously, not everybody is righthanded and, a month after hearing this, I noticed mirror-image lathes in a machine shop, with one having the headstock on the right side. And what about machines other than lathes, like a machining center?

The direction of flow is not a matter of consensus in Japan. For example, you find clockwise cells in the works of Kenichi Sekine and Hitoshi Takeda. And I have heard the exact same argument made for clockwise cells that the Shingijutsu people make for the opposite. What my own experience tells me is that the direction of flow doesn't matter that much and should not be a deciding factor in line design. I see it on the level of deciding whether to cut a soft-boiled egg on the small end or the big end.

I have never seen any substantiation of the claim that counterclockwise flow is always 40% more productive than clockwise. But, if you have people move machines based on that claim, it both demonstrates and establishes your power. Personally, I would never recommend a change unless I had good reasons to believe it is an improvement. I don't need proof "beyond a reasonable doubt," but I need some evidence.  Personal experience of having done it in a previous, similar project is best; a trusted colleague's experience is second best; logic is third best. A logical analysis of the situation may tell you that something should work, but the risk of having overlooked a critical factor is higher than when you go by experience. On the other hand, if you always went be experience only, you would never innovate.

4. Projects that Can Be "Kaizen Events"

"Kaizen Events" have their uses, and I have facilitated a number of them. A "Kaizen Event" usually is a three-month project, with 6 weeks of planning and preparation, 1 week of intense activity, and another 6 weeks to complete follow-up action items.

To be successful, don't give short shrift to planning and preparation. In particular, the choice of the subject of the event is key.Choose a subject for which:

  1. All the work can be completed within the week of intense activity.
  2. All the participants already have the requisite skills, or can learn them on the first day of the intensive week.
  3. The work has tangible performance improvements at stake.
  4. The project is a further learning opportunity for the participants.
  5. The target area of the project has a sufficient remaining economic life.

Then, of course, the week of intense activity must be properly managed, and I found the main challenge to be making sure that all participants have something useful to do at all times. If you are not careful, you will have a few people working themselves ragged and some spectators who, through no fault of their own, do not see clearly how they can contribute.

The follow-up action items are the Achille's heel of the approach. Whatever enthusiasm is worked up during the intensive week is no longer there for mopping up activities, even though they may be essential to sustain the improvements. That's why you need to choose your battles so that there are, if not zero follow-up items, at least as few as possible. And then management must pay special attention to making sure they are not forgotten.

5. What Good Does a "Kaizen Event" Do?

Can you "eliminate waste" and see performance drop? The very idea strikes me as absurd. Think of everyday life. When you tell anyone that they are wasting their time in doing something, it means that nothing would get worse if they didn't do it. Conversely, if anything would get worse as a result of them not doing it, they are not wasting their time. This is true for Erma Bombeck's housewife ironing diapers as well as IT departments printing and distributing reports no one reads.

We use "waste" as a translation of "muda" (無駄), which means "unnecessary." An activity is therefore waste if, and only if, not doing it would have no adverse effect on any dimension of performance. If you stop overproducing, it doesn't degrade productivity, quality, delivery, safety, or morale. Likewise with eliminating excess transportation, double-handling, etc.

The American literature on Lean contains the definition of waste as "activity that does not add value to the product." I suppose that the notion of waste just being what you don't need to do is uncomfortably simple when selling to MBAs. You have to endow it with intellectual depth that just isn't there. It sounds great in PowerPoint but, if you try to apply it, you end up telling people who do useful work like document control on process specs that their job is waste because it doesn't modify the product. It's nonsense because, if you stop doing document control, your quality goes down quickly.

The "muda" perspective, on the other hand, is operational. You can practically tell whether eliminating an activity degrades performance in any way. As a result, there is no such thing as eliminating waste in a way that worsens performance. If you make performance worse, you may in fact have introduced more waste.

If you make people's jobs easier, their productivity and quality increase in perfectly measurable fashion. If you eliminate literal pain points, you reduce the frequency of accidents and repetitive stress injuries, which is also perfectly measurable.  Tangible improvements don't have to be in the language of money. They don't have to be cost savings. They can be in the language of things that is spoken on the shop floor, but they must exist.

Laura Kriska, the young American who became the accidental office lady at Honda headquarters in Tokyo in the early 1990s, managed to get Honda to stop requiring female employees to wear uniforms at the office. It was a Kaizen project, organized as a "New Honda circle." The circle presented its findings to Honda managers in terms of tangible improvements as a result of eliminating these uniforms,and they got approval.

Uniforms at Honda's Marysville, OH plant (IndustryWeek)

6. Earlier Posts on These Topics

As indicated above, this is a perennial topic, and I have already posted the following about it:

6.1. Kaizen Events/Blitzes

6.2. QC circles

6.3. Waste Elimination and Performance Improvement


Don't waste time on Strategy Deployment (Hoshin Kanri) | David Bovis

"Where people put the effort into it and understand the principles and why they work fully, Hoshin Kanri can unlock enormous potential throughout an organisation."

Source: www.linkedin.com

Michel Baudin's comments:

Great article. As a condition for success in implementing Hoshin Planning, at least in Manufacturing, I would add timing. The organization must be ready for it, and it is, for example, after a number of successful, local improvement projects have led people to say "These are great, but what do they add up to? And where do they lead us?" Hoshin Planning can then help them figure out their own answers and provide a structure for moving forward.

In the list of failure causes for Hoshin Planning, I would also add the lingering influence of Management-By-Objectives (MBO), which keeps managers obsessed with gaming metrics instead of doing the work. I think it is what you mean when you say that Hoshins should not be formulated in terms of metrics, but it should be made clear that Hoshin Planning replaces MBO; it is not an add-on to it.

See on Scoop.it - lean manufacturing

Does Historical Accuracy Matter?

Cuckoo clock from the Black Forest

The most famous line in The Third Man is Orson Welles's addition to the script:

"In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

65 years later, Paul Krugman opened his editorial in today's New York Times with:

"Ah, Switzerland, famed for cuckoo clocks..."

With all due respect to Paul Krugman, I believe this fame came from the movie, because cuckoo clocks are not from Switzerland but from the Black Forest region of Germany. You can't visit the Black Forest without being reminded of it. A Swiss reader who signs as "Thomas, from Nyon," even added:

"Dr. Krugman, I am very sorry but you are wrong. I know it doesn't happen very often but there is a serious error in your column. Cuckoo clocks are German (more specifically The Black Forest), not Swiss. While the Swiss produce some expensive knock-offs, they have only copied this idea, they did not invent it."

But enough about cuckoo clocks. Does it matter to whom we attribute inventions, discoveries, and ideas? It certainly matters to the inventors, researchers and thinkers while alive and to their descendants afterwards, even when no money is at stake.

Car inventor Siegfried Marcus

It also obviously matters to those who take the trouble to rewrite history, and you have to wonder what their motives are. The first car, retrofitting an internal combustion engine on a hand cart, was built in 1870 by Siegfried Marcus in Vienna and, for decades, he was acknowledged as the inventor of the car. But, as he was Jewish, the Nazis decided that Daimler and Benz should be recognized instead, and instructed German encyclopedias to make Marcus disappear. Their lie grew roots. In February, 2009, when President Obama mistakenly stated that cars had been invented in the US, it was repeated in the "correction" issued by Han Tjan, the DaimlerBenz spokesman in the US. "It's a fact," he said,"that Daimler invented the car."

Other than the morality of it, I can think of two reasons why exact attribution matters. The first is that the current generation must be able to trust that its own deeds will be recognized and that credit for the creations of its members will not go to others. If you feel that, because of your gender, ethnicity, or politics, whatever you contribute will be credited to somebody else, chances are you will keep it to yourself. This is an avoidable loss to society, and the best we can do to avoid it is to do everything we can to make sure that credit for past contributions is given where it is due.

The second reason is that inventions, discoveries, and new ideas hatch in a context, and that knowing that context helps you understand them. Knowing what problems people were trying to solve makes you understand the choices they made and make sense of the solutions they found.

Discoveries in the art of manufacturing are not well documented for posterity. They happen on production floors; they are often ideas that are not easily patentable, yet give the company a competitive advantage. As a result they are treated as a trade secret. These secrets eventually leak, as suppliers learn them and employees leave, taking them along to rival companies. Eventually, the Public Relations department is compelled to publish something, usually with some truth, attended by a churchillian "bodyguard of lies." It's fair game, but it makes the history of technology difficult to trace.

The official history of Toyota, for example, credits the American car industry as the single source of the ideas that were the foundations of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Yet the German word "Takt" plays a central role in TPS, and it didn't come from the American car industry. Back in March, 2013, I posted my findings about the German contributions to TPS, based on following this thread. It is clear that, in its early days, Toyota learned much from Germany, about automotive technology from its car industry, and about production systems from its aircraft industry. Most of the information I collected is available on line, and the rest I found in a single visit to the Stanford Business School library. If you look for it, it is not hard to find, but you won't find it on the Toyota web site. Why? I can only guess, but the US is Toyota's biggest export market, and, from a public relations standpoint, the Germany of the 1930s and 40s is an awkward association, even though the lessons Toyota learned there had nothing to do with politics.

Suited Henry Ford examining a V-8 engine

In a series of Industry Week articles, William Levinson appears keen to attribute the invention of Lean to Henry Ford, and to erase from history the term "mass production," which was coined specifically to describe the Ford system. The featured image heading the article shows Henry Ford examining an engine. The article then starts with "The history of lean manufacturing shows..." So there we have it! We can forget about the Toyodas, Taiichi Ohno, Shigeo Shingo, and all the other contributors to TPS. According to Levinson, all there is to Lean was already at Ford in the 1920s.

The key problem with this kind of revisionism is that it discourages you from studying the more recent developments of TPS. When I looked at the timeline of its development, I noticed that the major foreign inputs, from the US and Germany, were over by the mid 1950s, meaning that TPS for the past 60 years has grown through internal development at Toyota.


The World's Most Dangerous Job? | James Lawther

"You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet, but according to some of the more reliable sources, during World War II:

  • Over 12,000 Bomber Command aircraft were shot down
  • 55,500 aircrew died.
  • The life expectancy of a Lancaster bomber was 3 weeks
  • Tail-gunners were lucky if they survived four missions."

Source: www.squawkpoint.com


Michel Baudin's comments:

This is a great story both about effective visualization of series of events in space-time and about proper interpretation in the face of sample bias.

Manufacturing, thankfully, is less dangerous than flying bombers in World War II was, but it is still more dangerous than it should be. Posting the locations of injuries on a map of the human body is also an effective way to identify which body parts are most commonly affected, and which safety improvements are most effective.

But are all injuries reported? Many organizations blame the victims for lowering their safety metrics, and discourage reporting. As a consequence, we can expect under-reporting and a bias towards injuries severe enough that reporting is unavoidable.

If you get data on an entire population, or if you thoughtfully select a representative sample, you can avoid bias, but many of the most commonly used samples are biased, often in ways that are difficult to figure out.

Customer surveys of product quality, for example, are biased by self-selection of the respondents. Are unhappy customers more likely to take the opportunity to vent than happy customers to praise? If so, to what extent? The effect of self-selection is even stronger for posting reviews on websites.

See on Scoop.it - lean manufacturing

Not Exactly Poka-Yoke and Chaku-Chaku

"Japanese automobile manufacturing methods are adopted by American competitors. Watch the concept of poka-yoke, meaning "correct" and chaku-chaku, meaning "one worker, several tasks" in the manufacture of rear view mirrors."

Source: www.youtube.com

Michel Baudin's comments:

An interesting video, but "Poka-Yoke" and "Chaku-Chaku" don't mean what the narration says they do. And they are not "Japanese" methods but methods invented by specific individuals in specific companies that happened to be in Japan. Likewise, the assembly line is not an "American" method but a method invented by P.E. Martin, Charles Sorensen and others at Ford.

"Poka-Yoke" doesn't just mean "correct." More specifically, a Poka-Yoke is a device integrated in the production process to prevent human error or detect it immediately without adding any labor. Checking bar codes on parts, as shown in a video, doesn't qualify as a Poka-Yoke because it adds labor, and error prevention devices that add labor are ineffective because they are by-passed under pressure.

The video shows an operator attending to a sequence of tasks and calls it "Chaku-Chaku." There is, however, ,more to Chaku-Chaku than this, such as automatic processing at each station, with automatic unloading and chutes between stations, so that the work of the operator is focused on checking the part after an operation and loading it into the next.

See on Scoop.it - lean manufacturing

Hong Kong Power Company Holds QC Circle Convention | Quality Alchemist

CLP Power Quality Control Circle (QCC) Convention was established in 2002. It aims to offer our staff a platform to submit any creative ideas they may have to improve processes, procedures and overall operations in the form of a proposal. CLPP QCC Convention is one of key quality culture activities and HKSQ exco members were honored to be invited as guests for the Convention. Moreover, our former chairman Dr. Aaron Tong was one of judges.

Source: qualityalchemist.blogspot.com

Michel Baudin's comments:

The QC circle, born in Japan in the early 1960s and the object of a short-lived fad in the US and Europe in the 1980s, lives on as a useful tool in organizations that stuck with it, including many companies in Japan, China, India, and other Asian countries.

CLP Power has been an electrical utility serving Hong Kong for 100 years. In the jury that awarded prizes to circle projects at this convention was my friend Aaron Tong, former chair of the Hong Kong Society for Quality (HKSQ).

See on Scoop.it - lean manufacturing

Review of "Engineering the Revolution" by Ken Alder

This book will entertain and inform you if you have been struggling with issues like the proper role of government in the economy and in technology development, gaining acceptance for new technology in a society, the nature of the engineering profession and its social role, engineering education, or meritocracy in general. It is about events that happened between 200 and 300 years ago in France, but the technical, political and social challenges it describes are still with us today, worldwide.

1. Interchangeable Parts: Not Just an American Story

Statue of Jefferson in Paris

Statue of Jefferson in Paris

Technically, it is about interchangeable parts manufacturing. While David Hounshell's "From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932" told the story of this technology in the US, alluding only briefly to the earlier work done in France, Ken Alder makes this early work the focus of his book. He opens with what may have been the most consequential meeting in the history of manufacturing, when American ambassador Thomas Jefferson visited Honoré Blanc's lab at the Château de Vincennes on July 8, 1785 and witnessed a demonstration of musket lock assembly from bins of parts. Alder then flashes back in time to the developments that led to this passing of the baton.



Growing up in France, I had been taught that it had missed the boat on the industrial revolution. I have polled French engineers about the key figures in Alder's book, Pierre Vaquette de Gribeauval and Honoré Blanc. A few, who work in the defense industry, had heard of Gribeauval as the designer of both the French weapon system used in the Revolution/Napoleonic era and of the strategies and tactics to put it to use. But they did not associate his name with interchangeable parts.

Blanc gun lock with interchangeable parts

Blanc gun lock with interchangeable parts

No member of that group had ever heard of Honoré Blanc. I could not find a picture of Blanc anywhere, but I did find pictures of his handiwork, like a gunlock with interchangeable parts made for the M1777 musket. His only known publication is an Important memorandum on the manufacture of weapons of war addressed to the National Assembly in 1790. The French revolution had cut off the support he had enjoyed in the royal regime, and he wrote this memo as a plea to the new authorities.

He speaks of himself in the 3-rd person, as 'Mr. Blanc', and not only explains what he did but he also describes, perhaps too candidly for his purpose, the difficulties he encountered to get his methods accepted in armories.To give concrete examples, he enters into details that parliamentarians, then or today, certainly would not follow, such as the disastrous consequences of not having standards for taps and screws. It shows the struggles of an inventor whose ideas were widely applied 100 years later.

Even though Jefferson did not believe in developing manufacturing in the US, as president, he initiated a 50+ year development effort that eventually succeeded, was essential to the growth of manufacturing, and created the machine-tool industry. The broad outlines of the American part of the story are taught to American school children and associated with the name of Eli Whitney, but nobody in France seems aware that there ever even was such a thing as "interchangeable parts technology." It is American historians of technology, like David Hounshell and Ken Alder, who are lifting the French precursors from obscurity.

Hounshell's book had left me with the perception that the reason the development of interchangeable parts had failed in France was that metal working technology was not ready, particularly the machining of steel after heat treatment. Alder points instead to social resistance against a disruptive technology. According to Alder, it failed, not because it couldn't technically be made to work, but because the established arms industry blocked its implementation.

The subtitle of the book indicates 1763 to 1815 as the time span of his investigation, from the end of the Seven Years' War, during which the poor performance of French weapons motivated the start of this effort, to the fall of Napoleon, who ended it. Alder, however, goes further in time in both directions, providing for the earlier decades insights about the origins of the modern engineering profession and of the peculiarities of the French engineering education system. For the decades after 1815, he describes how the technology eventually returned to France after a hiatus of 50 years, as "the American system of manufacture."

2. Birth of the engineering profession

When, as Ken Alder does , you pull on the "Gribeauval" thread, you find a wealth of unexpected information on topics other than business and production methods, including the origin of the engineering profession as we know it.

The term "engineer" originally designated people working for the military, in the design of fortifications or weapons. Until the 18th century, they had relied exclusively on know-how passed on by generations of craftsmen. Early in the 18th century, the French artillery service created schools to train officers who could advance the technology by merging the modern science of the day -- Newtonian physics -- with the craftsmen's empirical know-how.

The graduates were the prototypes of what we now know as engineers. Gribeauval was a product of this system, as was Napoleon Bonaparte. The self-taught Blanc, on the other hand, had begun his career as an apprentice gunsmith at the age of 12, and his background is similar to that of many manufacturing innovators to come, from Frederick Taylor to Taiichi Ohno.

I was always been struck that the word "ingénieur" for this profession is essentially the same in German, Russian, Italian, and Spanish, while it is different in English. An "ingénieur" is ingenious; an "engineer" drives a locomotive. The connotations are different and reflect a difference in the social status of the profession in continental Europe and in the English-speaking countries. "Ingénieur" and Engineer in fact have the same remote origin in the designers and builders of fortifications and armaments.

Among other things, the goal of the artillery schools could only be reached with students willing and able to master Newtonian physics. But the army officer corps had, until then, been a preserve of the nobility, whose horseback riding sons were more likely to be effective at leading a cavalry charge than organizing to move, set up, point and fire cannons accurately. To recruit more cerebral candidates, these schools selected them on math abilities that were far beyond anything they would need in the field. 300 years on,  engineering schools still do.

In this context, school mottoes like "theory and practice," now trivial and obvious, refer to the specific objective pursued at the time the institutions were created. It was not at all trivial and was the subject of violent social conflicts. In the arcane, to them unintelligible Newtonian physics, the craftsmen saw  a threat to their jobs, and fought it, which is reminiscent of the attitudes we see today.  Today, for example, it is French bookstore operators who fight to preserve their way of life against the threats of on-line stores and electronic books.

3. Technical limitations

The plan to apply contemporary physics to artillery ran into difficulties that did not all have to do with the reluctance of craftsmen to change. Early 18th century science couldn't quite predict the trajectories of cannonballs. At first, it was treating them as if they were flying in a vacuum, and a theory of air resistance was not worked out until Benjamin Robins in England and Leonhard Euler in Germany did it in the 1740s and 50s. The cannons of the day also tended to throw curve balls, and spinning cannon balls deviated enough to miss their targets. A theory explaining this, the Magnus effect, was another century away.

And finally, the production of cannonballs was so imprecise that you had ±20% of variations in diameter. The smaller ones would leave gaps through which the explosion gases would escape without providing the expected propulsion. With this level of variability, the best ballistics models would have made no difference. There was no hope of having a science-based method of aiming guns unless you could make them straight, with consistent dimensions, and you could load them with consistent ammunition. In other words, the whole artillery system had to be built with interchangeable parts.

Making a 100,000 consistent muskets with the manufacturing technology of the day was a challenge. The Farenheit and Celsius scales were invented about that time, but there were no thermometers to measure the temperatures used for heat treatment in forging. Instructions called to make the iron "cherry red," which covers a range of colors.

The techniques used in the 18th century to make a rifle in 300 hours are reenacted and summarized in the following 58-minute video of gunsmith Wallace Gusler, shot at Colonial Williamsburg in 2013:

The first product successfully manufactured with interchangeable part, however, was not a gun but a gun carriage, about 1765. Under the leadership of Gribeauval, they were built in national armories and did not require the tight tolerances of the guns themselves. Honoré Blanc undertook it for muskets, which was a different challenge. Technically, it involved (2) making and assembling precise small parts into gun locks, and (2) forging gun barrels by hand. And the muskets were not built in armories but in small shops by contractors with at most a handful of employees, who were not keen to invest in machinery or share their proprietary know-how.

4. Rejection by the Arms Industry


At the subway station named for Gaspard Monge

Technically, Gribeauval and Blanc were more successful than I previously believed based on Hounshell's account. They introduced technical drawings, based on Monge's descriptive geometry, with critical dimensions and tolerances, go/no-go gauges, fixtures and jigs, and machines for forging, turning, milling, drilling and reaming that were powered by horses, water, or people. Gaspard Monge is actually better remembered than either Gribeauval or Blanc; he has a street, a square, and a subway station named after him.

The first product successfully manufactured with interchangeable part, however, was not a gun but a gun carriage, about 1765. Under the leadership of Gribeauval, they were built in national armories and did not require the tight tolerances of the guns themselves. Honoré Blanc took up muskets, which were a different challenge. And the muskets were not built in armories but in small shops by contractors with at most a handful of employees, who were not keen to invest in machinery, share their proprietary know-how, or congregate in factories.

In musket making, the relationship between the military procurement engineers and their contract manufacturers were almost unbelievably brutal, particularly in the Saint-Étienne area, South of Lyon which, according to Alder, did not speak French at the time but Provencal. The engineers in charge of testing and accepting muskets had the authority to jail recalcitrant suppliers, and used this authority, but there were limits to the extent you could pressure people who made the most lethal weapons of the time, and were determined to keep control over that activity.

Alder's account is of 50 years of engineers vainly trying to force new technology onto an industry that rejected it, even though embracing it would have been in its best interest, not to mention that of the country. This struggle continued through three political regimes. It started under Louis XV, and went on right through the Revolution and the Napoleonic eras. Gribeauval cannons were made by the thousands, and used not only in Europe but also in the American Revolutionary War. Muskets were made by the hundreds of thousands, but too few with interchangeable parts to make a difference.

In the end, the French engineers lost the fight and left a clear field to their American counterparts. Towards the end of the 19th century, interchangeable parts returned to France as the American System of Manufacture.

5. Interchangeable parts today

I don't think that the technology of interchangeable parts is taught as such anywhere today. Its elements are fully integrated into the production techniques: engineering drawings, critical dimensions, tolerances, formal specification methods, machinery, etc.

On the other hand, the interchangeability of components is an ideal that is not realized everywhere. In cars, it is. You can buy spare parts, even after-market imitations and install them without adjustments. But in aircraft manufacturing, I saw shims used in assembly to compensate for variations in size. In semiconductors, we don't know how to define tolerances on critical dimensions for a sequence of 500 operations such that the circuits work as advertised.
I see in interchangeable parts technology the ancestor of quality control. It was the first systematic effort to eliminate variability in manufacturing processes. In 1917, it was still current enough for Sakichi Toyoda to hire an American expert on that topic to introduce it in his loom company, which made the transition from wood to metal. His investors did not see the point and Toyoda had to pay the consultant out of his own pocket. 20 years later, this expertise has helped Kiichiro Toyoda start Toyota. In Japan, as elsewhere, it is now built into the foundations of manufacturing and has disappeared as a separate discipline.

6. French contributions to manufacturing

In the United States, Eli Whitney is known to the public; Gribeauval and Blanc, only to historians of technology.  There are other French thinkers who are better known in the US than at home, including Frédéric Bastiat and Henri Fayol, whose theories on management are now taught in American business schools.

I am particularly interested in Gribeauval and Blanc, because I try to find in each country founding fathers of industrial or manufacturing engineering to which local professionals can relate. In the US, you have Taylor, the Gilbreths, Gantt, Ford, Deming, and many others; in Japan, Taiichi Ohno, Shigeo Shingo, Kaoru Ishikawa , Kiichiro Toyoda, Sakichi Toyoda, and others;  In England,  Frank Woollard; in Germany, Hugo Junkers, the inventor of the takt system in aircraft production in the 1920s;  in Russia, Alexey Gastev; in Poland, Karol Adamiecki, precursor of the Gantt chart with his harmonograms. 

What about France? It has had many inventors of processes and products -- from Jacquard looms to smart cards -- but I have not been able to any name on the technical and human organization of production, without going back another century and a half, to Gribeauval and Blanc.

7. Flaws in the Book

While Alder's book is both entertaining and informative, it is not perfect. He uses words like hermeneutics, teleology, and epistemology that aren't really necessary to explain the history of gun manufacturing and make him sound as if he spent too much time with French intellectuals.

Some sentences actually also look like inaccurate translations from the French, for example, when he says that workers were "obliged" to perform certain actions, it really means "coerced." When he says that armorers "debauched" competitors' employees, it means that they offered them raises to switch employers. "Poached" would have been a more accurate translation. There is also an anachronistic reference to an "industrial policy" for the revolutionary government. "Industrial policy" ("politique industrielle") is a modern French term for government policy about manufacturing.

Bridging the Gap between Buyers and Suppliers | Robert Moakler | IndustryWeek

"Creating high performance, collaborative alliances between buyers and U.S. suppliers will ensure rebuilding a strong and sustainable American supply chain."

Source: www.industryweek.com


Michel Baudin's comments:

Robert Moakler reiterates the well known fact that collaboration between suppliers and customers is a win/win, and offers an e-sourcing platform as the better mousetrap that will make it happen.

As COO of an "online marketplace exclusively developed for the American manufacturing industry," Moakler is forthright about where he is coming from. But is lack of technology the reason why adversarial, arm's length relations between suppliers and customers remain the norm?

My own findings on this matter -- summarized in Lean Logistics, on pp. 342-350 -- is that each side stands to gain a short-term advantage from unilaterally breaking a collaborative relationship, and that the business history of the past 25 years shows examples of this happening.

On the customer side, a new VP of purchasing can instruct buyers to use the information suppliers have shared to force price concessions. Conversely, suppliers can leverage intimate, single-sourcing, collaborative relations with a customer to charge above-market prices.

None of these behaviors is viable in the long term, but not all managers care about the long term, and the toughest challenge in establishing collaborative relations is defusing well-founded fears about the future behavior of the other side.

While wishing Mr. Moakley the best of luck in his business, I don't believe technology is the problem.

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When Finance Runs the Factory | William Levinson | Industry Week

"Henry Ford achieved world-class results with three key performance indicators (KPIs), none of which were financial. His successors' changeover to financial metrics, on the other hand, caused the company to forget what we now call the Toyota production system."

Source: www.industryweek.com

Michel Baudin's comments:

Yes, giving power over manufacturing companies to accountants, as American industry massively did in the 1950s yielded disastrous results. The summary given in this article's lead paragraph, however, does not match the historical record from other sources.

First, Ford did not "forget what we now call the Toyota production system." Instead, Ford's people developed in the 1910s a system later called "mass production," that was the best of its day and was copied worldwide in many industries. But anyone who seriously studies mass production and the Toyota Production System (TPS) can tell the difference.

Second, Ford lost its position as the world's largest car maker long before accountants were put in charge. It was taken over in the 1920s by GM, not decades later by Toyota, while still led by Henry Ford. Historians blame this loss of competitive position on his dictatorial approach and on his failure to put in place the kind of management systems Alfred P. Sloan did at GM. Blaming the Whiz Kids of the 1950s is a misleading shortcut.

Third, the article seems confused about accounting. By definition, everything you own is an asset, whether desirable or not. In fact, when you produce as much as before with less inventory, you boost your return on assets by reducing assets.

Allocating overhead to products based on labor is simply a legacy of an era in which manufacturing was primarily manual and information technology was a paper ledger. It makes no sense today, and accountants trained in the last 50 years know it. But many large companies still have systems in place that keep doing it.

It is simply wrong economic thinking, and so is making decisions based on "unit costs" when you not making individual units but a flow of, say, 30,000 units/month. What really matters is the flow of revenue from this flow of goods, and what you have to spend to sustain it. And a flow may not just be of one product but of a family that includes free samples, entry-level, premium, and luxury versions.

All you can legitimately do with a unit cost is multiply it back by the size of your flow. Otherwise, looking at unit costs leads you to think of your product as you do of a carton of milk you buy at the supermarket, and to believe that its unit cost is money you will not spend if you don't make it. This king of thinking what leads you to outsource production to the latest cheap labor country and starts companies down death spirals.

Fourth, time, energy, and materials are not Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) but dimensions of performance. Order-fulfillment lead time, inventory dwell time, kilowatt-hours of electricity, percentage of materials recycled as scrap... are performance indicator. Going from identifying a dimension to having a good metric for it is not a simple step.

Wasted time, energy and materials are clearly important, but are those all the dimensions that need to be considered? What about equipment and facilities, for example?

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Setup Reduction Methodology | Alejandro Sibaja

"We may think, based in all the information about Lean Manufacturing, that many tools and methods are well understood, unfortunately on real live there is many misunderstanding about them, that’s why I decided to write this article, for one of the most popular and known tool, SMED."

Source: alexsibaja.blogspot.mx



Michel Baudin's comments:

It's good to see that not everyone has forgotten SMED or is taking it for granted. When you bring it up with manufacturing managers nowadays, they often respond with "Oh yeah, we had some consultants show us how to do this three years ago."

"And how long do you take to set up this machine today?"

"I am not sure. Maybe 90 minutes..."

They think SMED is yesterday's news, but they are not doing it, and they are often confused about its purpose. They think it is to increase machine utilization, as opposed to flexibillity.

Sibaja's article is a valuable introduction to the subject. I would have called it "Setup Time Reduction" rather than "Setup Reduction," which might imply that you are making fewer setups, or spending less time on setups overall. It's not what SMED lets you do. Instead, your total setup time budget remains the same, but you are using it to make more setups and produce smaller lots of more different products.

I would also have put more emphasis on the use of video recordings in analyzing setup processes. You don't just show up on the shop floor with a camera; instead, you have to prepare the ground carefully, secure the consent of the participants upfront, and know how to use the camera to capture the relevant details.

Sibaja's last sentence is about using the information "in your next Kaizen Event," which implies that Kaizen events are an appropriate method to manage SMED projects. It is not my experience. You might kick start a SMED project with a Kaizen Event, but not to finish it. Often, to achieve quick setups, you have to make changes to the machine and the tooling that require patient work over time. Standardizing the dimensions of 300 dies, for example, may take a year of incremental progress.

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