The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism | Max Weber [Review]

Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism is a 110-year old essay that remains influential today and claims a relationship between the development of science, technology, and industry and the ideology of “ascetic Protestantism,” a label under which he groups Calvinists (American presbyterians), Pietists (Vanished in the US) , Methodists, and Baptists. The English translation is a short 124 pages. It is easy to read, not entirely convincing, and a window into the mind of a social scientist ca. 1900. The obvious flaw in Weber’s argument is the prominent role played in the scientific and industrial revolution by societies like England where ascetic Protestantism had little or no influence.

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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.

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Meeting in Paris with Pen Pals Philip Marris and Christian Hohmann

Philip Marris and Christian Hohmann have been on-line pen pals of mine for years, but we had never actually met. My visit to Paris this week was the opportunity to fix this and trade manufacturing war stories for four hours while having dinner at the landmark La Coupole restaurant.

Both Philip and Christian Doc - Mar 1, 2014, 10-55 AMhave been consulting as long as I have and are authors of books about Lean in French. Philip is an Englishman who speaks French without even a trace of an accent, and writes in French. He describes his own book,  Le Management Par Les Contraintes, as “very boring,” because, unlike Eli Goldratt’s The Goal, it is focussed on technical nitty-gritty rather than entertainment. As I told him, this is my favorite kind.

Christian Hohmann has written the following four books:

He has also posted 50 short videos on Youtube. I first approached Christian 15 years ago, when writing Lean Assembly. I had found a picture of an electronics assembly line that he had posted. I wanted to use it in the book, and it had some features I did not understand. I asked him and he gave both the answer and permission to use the picture. When I thanked him this week, he had forgotten about it.

Review of “The Maker Movement Manifesto” by Mark Hatch

Mark Hatch is an open booster of his company, TechShop, which he describes as a space where creative people find the tools and the support they need to make the objects they imagine. All this with a tough-guy, unsmiling author picture on the back flap that might make you mistake the book for the memoirs of a soldier.

But wait! Mark Hatch is an ex-soldier, who manages the Green Beret Alumni group on LinkedIn. This is certainly an unexpected background for the leader of a movement of “crafters, hackers, and tinkerers” that he expects to radically change the way things are made in the world.

But his enthusiasm is infectious. He does not only teaches you about the 3D printers, laser cutters, waterjets, microcontrollers, design software, training, and crowd-funding resources for “makers”; he also tells you where to find them. While reading the book, I installed on this machine some of the software tools he discusses and kept thinking about a kitchen appliance that I think should exist but doesn’t yet seem to.

I believe him him when he describes “maker spaces” like TechShop as enablers for the development of businesses around hardware products that today’s venture capitalists would shy away from, and he has a long list of examples, the most impressive for me being Square, the company that makes the attachment that enables anybody with an iPhone and a bank account to take credit card payments.

Where I don’t follow him is when he elevates the “maker movement” to the status of the “next industrial revolution” or when he describes making physical things are uniquely fundamental to what it means to be human. Of course it is fulfilling to conceive an object, build it completely, make it work, and, even better, make it useful to other humans. But there is no justification for viewing as superior to other activities that don’t involve making physical things, such as healing the sick, nurturing children, or even entertaining others. Making things is just providing a required infrastructure.

The real problem with manufacturing work as it has evolved over the past 200 years is that its division into pieces so small that they rob  production workers of the fulfillment that comes from end-to-end construction of an object. You meet people who enjoy putting something together, but they don’t on an assembly line where they repeat the same sliver of work 400 times in a day.

Pencil box from rumps of table legs


Stand-up desk with customized Ikea table

I see Hatch’s maker movement as a vehicle for innovation that might otherwise not take place, but I don’t see it at the end of manufacturing as we know it. I don’t see it as a threat to Ikea. I particularly don’t agree when he describes their products as “not customizable,” when I have personally customized Ikea closet doors to fit where they were not intended to, cut the legs of an Ikea coffee table to place it on top of my desk so that I could work standing, and turned the rumps of the legs into a pencil box.

When he explains how much better gifts are when homemade rather than bought, I can’t help but thinking of the sweater knit by your aunt that you feel obligated to wear whenever she visits.



Lean Assembly, Lean Logistics, and Euclides Coimbra’s Changes

My fellow consultant and author Euclides Coimbra has only written two reviews on Amazon, both on July 3, 2006, giving five stars to my books Lean Assembly and Lean Logistics, and commenting as follows:

  1. About Lean Assembly: “Very good book. Full of details. Useful for implementers. Knowledgeable readers can find many info between the lines. A wonderful contribution for Kaizen and Lean knowledge.”
  2. About Lean Logistics: “Following Lean Assembly Lean Logistics is a natural continuation. The style is the same and the information as valuable as Lean Assembly. A must have for any Kaizen and Lean implementer. Lots of details and useful information.”

A few months later, I went to work for him, and grew to appreciate his consulting talents. We parted later on good terms and I considered him a friend.

I just received a copy of his 2013 book, Kaizen in Logistics & Supply Chains, and found much overlap in subject matter with the two books of mine that he previously considered a “wonderful contribution” and a “must have.” I assume he changed his mind because they are not in the bibliography, and I couldn’t find my name anywhere in his book.

Poka-Yoke at Toyota: the Current State

Mikiharu Aoki's "All About Poka-Yoke in Toyota Factories" (2012)

Mikiharu Aoki’s “All About Poka-Yoke in Toyota Factories” (2012)

Mikiharu Aoki kindly sent me his 2012 book on mistake-proofing (Poka-Yoke) in Toyota factories. I had asked him for it out of curiosity about new developments in this field.

The classics on Poka-Yoke are Shigeo Shingo’s Zero Quality Control (1986) and Productivity Press’s big red book (1987), both of which are useful but leave you hungry for more examples that do not date back to the 1960s and 70s.

In Make No Mistake (2001) Martin Hinckley reused many of the same examples, but added a few using more electronics, discussed the relationship between mistake-proofing and statistical methods, and included a directory of  suppliers for tools and devices. I spot-checked the websites of a few of them and, 12 years after publication of the book, found they were all still around.

While Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo were men of my grandparents’ generation, Mikiharu Aoki is my contemporary. He is not a founding father of the Toyota Production System, but he has worked in its modern incarnation for 26 years before becoming a consultant. He has written several books — only available in Japanese — and all but one with  “Toyota” in the title.

Part I  is a discussion of the steps needed to implement Poka-Yoke; Part II, 72 actual examples explained through conceptual diagrams and cartoons.

Part I, about 1/3 of the book, first discusses 5S, standard work, process capability, and one-piece flow as prerequisites to mistake-proofing. It then distinguishes the categories of mistake-proofing devices, such as the ones that physically prevent mistakes versus those that prevent defectives from escaping to the next process. It describes the use of Andons to trigger responses to problems detected by mistake-proofing, and expresses a preference for devices that involve direct, mechanical contact with work pieces over sensors and electronics, because their operation is visually obvious.

On the other hand, I did not see recommendations on how you organize the implementation of mistake-proofing, monitor progress, and make sure that the devices do not deteriorate or fall out of use over time. This is not covered either in any of the other books I have seen on the subject.

The examples in Part II are more similar to those in the older books than I expected. The tangs used to prevent mounting the button in the wrong position on a music player control panel are a classic, and the same method is used in my HP inkjet printer to prevent mounting ink cartridges in the dock for a different color.

Mistake-proofing assembly of music player buttons

Mistake-proofing assembly of music player buttons

In the following case is also consistent with the older Poka-Yokes: the outer dimensions of products are used to tell them apart and make different sets of parts available for assembly.

Bin cover Poka-Yoke

Bin cover Poka-Yoke

Clearly, the way it works, and whether it works, is obvious. By a method that relies on differences in the outer dimensions of a product is only applicable where such differences exist. With car engines, they do; with computers, they don’t, and many different configurations of the same product are mounted in the same chassis. In such a context, you have to resort to bar codes, QR codes, or RFID tags and the computer systems that go with them.

I expected to see more use of this kind of technology in current Poka-Yokes, but I understand that Aoki’s book is about car manufacturing and that you want, as much as possible, the devices to be invented on the shop floor by production people.

Among Aoki’s books, the one without Toyota in the title  is called “All about car factories” (自動車工場のすべて, November, 2012), and its purpose is to explain in an integrated manner both the production process and production control sides of car making. Aoki also included it in his package to me, but I have not had a chance to look at it yet. I will keep you posted.

Michel Baudin’s review of The Spirit of Kaizen |

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing

The key message of this book is that, no matter what your situation is, you should only try to improve it with small changes and that large changes never work because “we are built to resist radical change.” The author explains that the perspective of change sets off an alarm in a part of your brain called the amygdala, which confuses the change with a charging lion, triggers a flight-or-fight response, and prevents you from thinking rationally.

According to the author, a series of small steps works because they manage not to set off your alarms, and you are like the legendary frog who doesn’t react to small increases in water temperature until he is boiled. But wait! The author does not use this metaphor. To him, the fear response is purely irrational. The production manager who has spent 25 years working up from the shop floor should have no fear of losing her job to the young whippersnapper touting the latest change program.

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The Lean Turnaround | Amazon review

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing

While most business books read like a 10-page article diluted over 200+ pages, Art Byrne’s, instead, reads like 600-pages condensed to 200. This is the right length to be read by business people on airplanes. A longer book could have given more details, but at the cost of losing the audience. As it is, behind every sentence, you sense that there is personal experience you would like to dig further into.

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Ro Khanna’s Entrepreneurial Nation

The title misleads, because the book is not about entrepreneurship but about the state of manufacturing in the US. Fortunately, the subtitle is more descriptive: “Why manufacturing is still key to America’s future.” Thinking about entrepreneurship in 2012, the first companies that come to mind are Google, Facebook or Amazon, who do no manufacturing, or Apple, which subcontracts it. Several of the executives described are in fact entrepreneurs, but you also encounter regular managers and fifth generation heirs running family businesses. I don’t blame the author for this, as I suspect the title was chosen by marketers who thought that entrepreneurship would sell better than manufacturing.

The author’s bio on the book jacket describes him as “former deputy assistant secretary of commerce,” a title that leaves you wondering what he was actually doing. You have to look up his LinkedIn profile to find out that his primary function was to boost exports of manufactured goods. Until then, he was an intellectual property lawyer. To his credit, he makes no claim to having any particular knowledge of manufacturing before he started. But he clearly fell in love with the subject, and a passion for it shows through in his writings.

The book contains facts, interpretations of these facts, and policy recommendations. Crisscrossing the country for the commerce department enabled the author to visit many companies and meet outstanding leaders in steel making, aeronautics, mining machinery, defense, and other manufacturing industries. I had not heard about many of them and learned from the author’s account of these visits.

The author quotes many sources, and his position gave him the opportunity to be tutored by industry icons like Andy Grove. Nonetheless, I find his analysis of the situation lacking in depth and originality. I agree with his fundamental point that the Federal Government of the US should have a policy about Manufacturing, and that it makes no sense to have a cabinet-level Secretary of Agriculture and no Secretary of Manufacturing when Manufacturing is a much larger component of the economy.
His argument that government’s involvement in manufacturing is a long American tradition is based on a report by Alexander Hamilton as Treasury Secretary in 1791 arguing in favor of it. Khanna quotes it many times, but makes no reference to the role played by Thomas Jefferson in launching the multi-decade effort to make interchangeable parts, that the embryonic private sector of his day would not have undertaken, but that gave birth to the machine-tool industry and became key to the emergence of mass production in the 20th century. But his key point is valid that the government has a 200-year tradition of pitching in where the private sector can’t or won’t.

One argument that Bill Clinton makes but Khanna doesn’t is that none of the advanced economies in the world have developed on pure laissez-faire. The US hasn’t, and neither have Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy, or Canada. The visible hand of government plays some role everywhere. The question is what that role should be. Just because the government of another country intervenes in the economy in a particular way doesn’t mean we should do it too. Khanna appears to have yet to meet a government program he doesn’t like; to him, they are all underfunded and their budgets should be increased, and I have to disagree on some of them.

He asserts, for example, that the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) is a great program that does not “pick winners and losers.” Through this program, the federal government has been subsidizing consulting firms in all 50 states to provide services at reduced rates to small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). In so doing , the government may not pick among the recipients but it certainly does among providers. And the MEP program is run by NIST, the agency in charge of standards for weights and measures. It is run by managers who have never worked in factories and you wonder how they can select consultants. It is, however, exactly what NIST does, and, thereby, creates unfair competition to other consultants.

Khanna also makes the common confusion between having a strong manufacturing sector in the economy and having a large proportion of the work force involved in manufacturing. Most manufacturing jobs in the US today are still the kind of repetitive assembly line work that no child dreams of doing as a grown-up. The future is in the current minority of jobs that involves programming and maintaining machines. It is a slow transition that has been underway for decades and has already seen, for example, the number of employees needed in a steel mill drop by a factor of 10 in forty years. It still has a long way to go but the direction is clear. It is a process that moves like a glacier, not a tsunami, with the consequence that it can and should be planned for. The strong manufacturing sector of the future employs a small number of highly skilled people. The jobs are more desirable that traditional manufacturing jobs, but in much smaller numbers.

The book paints China as an enemy, at war with US manufacturing. But the Chinese I know are focused on pulling >1 billion people out of poverty, not putting Ohio machine shops out of business. We will do better if every way if they succeed and become consumers than if they stumble and China reverts to the chaos of 40 years ago. In a truly emerging economy, labor costs rise with the skills of the work force. As local companies develop their own intellectual property, they also become more sensitive to others’ and counterfeiting declines. Finally, as incomes rise, so does the demand for imports.

While GE’s reshoring of appliance production in a happy ending for Louisville, KY, the story makes you wonder what the executives had been thinking when they outsourced in the first place. Why did they wait until they had actually moved production to Mexico and China and wrecked Louisville before assessing the full economic consequences of these decisions?

The book is about success stories. In a context where so many are writing off the US manufacturing sector, Khanna wants to show how it can be successful, and it is understandable that he would not dwell on failures. One that he could not avoid, however, is Solyndra, because it is a case in which the government made a mistake, even if the mistake was made by a department other than the one Khanna worked for. He talks about “the lessons of Solyndra” but does not say much about what these lessons are. You shouldn’t overinvest, but you already knew that.