In our last article we touched on the 5S approach that Bill Lambert employs to increase the quality of technical furniture production at the Formaspace factory in Austin, Texas. This week we’ll start a multi-part series on quality and lean manufacturing technology, including the 5S approach. Like many manufacturers, we are constantly seeking ways to be more innovative and productive. In fact, our custom made furniture solutions can help you become more organized and productive. Over the course of this series, we hope to show why you should consider Formaspace an integral part of your lean manufacturing team.
PART 1: A Background in American Manufacturing Milestones
If you are an adherent of lean manufacturing, you know you want to focus on getting the right things to the right place at the right time in the right quantity. In fact if you follow the 5S approach (as we do here on our factory floor here at Formaspace) you probably have tape on the floor and tags hanging about while you’re asking yourself the five questions: why, why, why, why, why? Confused?
If You are Not a Black Belt in Six Sigma, an Explanation is in Order
Back in the time of Henry Ford, Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla, American manufacturing prowess was the talk of the entire world. It was an era of amazing expansion in factory production, built on the discoveries of the past century. The leading “scientific management” researcher of the time, Bethlehem Steel engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor believed that rigorous time and motion studies of work could unearth the “One Best Way” to organize factory production. Taylor’s works Shop Management (1903) and The Principles of Scientific Management (1911) have influenced generations of industrialists.
The most famous industrialist of the era, Henry Ford was in sync with Taylor’s principles. Ford upped the quality game dramatically by crafting each part of the famous Model T Ford to meet standardized dimensional tolerances. The result: interchangeable parts. No longer would skilled ‘fitters’ be required to rework parts to make them fit together on the assembly line; this opened up factory work to untrained workers, who flocked to Detroit in the millions. This innovation, combined with the moving assembly line (and later complete vertical integration), allowed Ford to achieve something believed impossible: he dramatically increased productivity while simultaneously raising wages and dropping prices of the Model T so low that they could be purchased by ordinary workers.
Today’s lean manufacturing analysts credit Ford for perfecting a robust, steady-state production method, which was ideal for uniform production at large-scale factories. Ford didn’t invent everything, however. For example, he didn’t discover the Just in Time principle, so overproduction of parts remained a problem. And changing customer demand — driven by competitors offering more stylish and feature-rich cars — would begin to challenge Ford’s ‘one size fits all’ production method. But that would not become apparent until years later.
Our Story Jumps Ahead to the End of WWII
After World War II, American confidence in our manufacturing capability was at an all time high. The Arsenal of Victory had outproduced the Axis in every category: airplanes, ships, transport and munitions.
In our confidence, we sent statistician and analyst William Edwards Deming to Japan to assist conducting the first post-war Japanese census. Deming was subsequently invited by the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) to lecture on the importance of quality control techniques. No less than Akio Morita, co-founder of SONY, attended one of Deming’s lectures outlining his approach of “Plan-Do-Check-Act”.
The message was clear: increasing quality can reduce costs and increase productivity. The combination of all three leads to business success of increased consumer preference and market share. JUSU created the Deming Prize in 1950 to honor quality improvement by Japanese companies. And over the coming decades, the phrase ‘Made in Japan’ was redefined. Once considered a source of poor knockoff toys and trinkets, Japanese products began to entice American consumers to purchase high-quality, inventive products like SONY portable transistor radios and NIKON and CANON cameras.
Fast Forward to the Post Vietnam Era…
In the 1970s, two back-to-back gas crises provided the market opening Japanese car importers Honda, Toyota and Datsun (Nissan) needed to infiltrate the American market. American consumers were charmed by these innovative, gas efficient models. And, once they owned a Japanese import, they began to take notice that these little cars were reliable, unlike the models coming out of Detroit. By 1984, GM was so desperate to figure out “the Japanese secret” to manufacturing that in they entered into a joint venture with Toyota to open the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California.
What was the secret to TPS: the Toyota Production System? One consultant, Norman Bodek, who was writing a book about Ford Motor Company, asked Taiichi Ohno what influenced his thinking. Taiichi Ohno — considered the father of the Toyota Production System (which we also call lean manufacturing) — responded that it was simple: he learned it all from Henry Ford’s book. Ah, the irony.
In Our Next Installment, We’ll Look at How the Pursuit of Quality has Roared Back in American Manufacturing by the Adoption of Lean Manufacturing Techniques
Formaspace is a part of the quality revolution in American manufacturing. If you are looking for ways to make your workspace, laboratory, manufacturing facility, school or government/military facility more productive, we have the expertise to make custom furniture solutions (workbenches, laboratories, casework, sorting tables) that will save you money by boosting your productivity and quality.