Takt time – More about origins in German aircraft manufacturing

What exactly did the engineers from Junkers tell their hosts at Mitsubishi in Nagoya in 1942 that influenced them so deeply? This is not a subject on which Google overwhelms you with information. I have found so far two German sources that provide at least a context with dates and names: Holger Lorenz, a journalist, and Lutz Budrass, an academic historian, author of a 1,000-page dissertation on the German aircraft industry from 1918 to 1945, now out of print. Lorenz and Budrass both write in German. In English there is a book by Daniel Uziel called Arming the Luftwaffe, but the only reference to Takt in it is in the recollections of a former Junkers worker, who says that his working conditions degraded markedly in 1943 when the Takt system was abandoned in his area, in favor of a moving conveyor.

The featured picture should look eerily familiar to anyone who used small trains for milk runs inside a plant. Lorenz describes it as showing Jumo-211 engines returning from test runs to disassembly. What is odd about the scene is that the train is running outside, with the engines unprotected from the weather. Perhaps the picture was just staged outside on a sunny day.

The ABC program, conceived by Klaus Junkers in 1932-33, called for the transformation of military aircraft manufacturing to mass production, based on Ford methods but with the caveat that the plants should be “fit for air defense.” From the get-go, the factories were designed in the expectation of enemy air raids. For this reason, rather than the kind of concentration you had at the Ford River Rouge plant, it involved multiple assembly halls, 200 to 300 meters apart with trees and green spaces to handicap airstrikes, and a network of suppliers in a circle about 35km away from Dessau, in Köthen, Halberstadt, Staßfurt, Bernburg. Lorenz describes these plants as supplying components “just in time,” but I suspect he is just retrofitting a modern term. “ABC” here refers to multiple locations A, B, C, etc.

Dessau is in the former East Germany, two thirds of the way from Berlin to Leipzig, and a museum is all that is left of the factory. From this location, however, if you operated a milk run through the locations described by Lorenz, using today’s roads, according to Google, it would be 164 km, and take 2 hours and 56 minutes to complete. The route would look as follows:

Of course, we don’t know whether they used milk runs, but their motivation to keep inventories low at the assembly plant was stronger than in more peaceful endeavors: they wanted to reduce the risk of the inventory being destroyed by bombs.

The Junkers plant in Dessau  became the largest  in the entire German aircraft industry, with 40,000 employees at its peak. Lorenz provides the following 1940 layout of the Dessau plant, which I annotated based on his explanations:

Air protection bunkers are under the green areas. The assembly halls are connected by a narrow-gauge railway on the outside.

The leader in building this plant was Heinrich Koppenberg, a metal worker who had risen to top management at the Flick steel company and was in charge of the Dessau facility from its inception in 1934 until 1941. In the following photo, Koppenberg is on the left, showing the plant to Nazi leader Hermann Göring in August, 1939:

According to Budrass, conditions at the plant degraded after Koppenberg’s departure, particularly with the use of forced labor. Production increased, but productivity and quality went down.

But I still don’t know what their Taktsystem was. There is a copy of Budrass’s book at the Stanford Library near here, and I will look at it when I get a chance, and will keep you posted on what I find.