Izak Duenyas is the John Psarouthakis Professor of Manufacturing Management and Area Chair of Operations Management at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan.
In the last several months, there has been several articles in the popular press questioning whether companies are now ready to move away from “lean manufacturing.” Undoubtedly, this is due to the fact that “lean manufacturing” is based upon the Toyota Production System and Toyota has had an overwhelming influence on the development and popularization of its principles. The very large number of recalls that Toyota has had in the last year (Toyota has now recalled more cars in the last year than it manufactured) has led some popular analysts to question whether the Toyota Production System and some of the principles behind the system are at fault. A typical example is a Wall Street Journal article “How Lean Manufacturing Can Backfire”.
Several colleagues and I have been researching and teaching the principles of lean manufacturing at the University of Michigan for the last 15 years. Our students in the Tauber Institue for Global Operations have also been involved in numerous projects over the same time frame in implementation of these principles in many different manufacturing (and some service) companies. I believe, based on this experience, that it is not lean manufacturing and its principles that caused some of Toyota’s recent problems. Arguably, it is the fact that in the last 10