help smaller north american companies streamline B u s i n e s s F i n a n c e

help smaller north american companies streamline B u s i n e s s F i n a n c e

Machine operators make cartridge heaters at Watlow in St. Louis. The company, which designs and manufactures industrial heaters, temperature sensors and other components of thermal systems, has adopted lean production principles. Nick Schnelle for The New York Times

This article in the New York Times (October 11, 2018) provides several interesting examples of lean operations (the topic of Chapter 16 in the textbook). It traces back to the roots of lean in the vaunted Toyota Production System (TPS) developed in Japan in the late 1940s, which was aimed at streamlining processes to eliminate waste, improve productivity and, ultimately, grow profits. Known as either the TPS or Toyota Way, it advocates for “an organizational culture of highly engaged people solving problems or innovating to drive performance,” according to Jamie Bonini, Vice President of Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing North America.

Roughly 40 years later, the term lean production was coined by John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, the autonomous driving car company that was spun off from Google. Krafcik was part of a team led by the research scientist James Womack, who became a founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute. The Institute’s approach, which differs in some ways, focuses on eliminating waste, rethinking work flow, and improving productivity, from entry-level employees to high-level executives. “When we came up with the name lean production, what we meant was the complete system,” Dr. Womack said. “What the world heard was factories. But the frontier has been outside of the factory world for the last 20 years.”

Sometimes, seemingly tiny changes exemplify the lean approach. Marc Braun, the President of Cambridge Engineering, a manufacturer of industrial heating and ventilation technologies said a new entry-level line employee, Justin Meade, realized he was wasting time each hour just to discard trash. Meade, who had little technical training, came up with the idea of attaching a trash can to a chair to cut 15 steps. Over the next six months he continued to make more revisions, with the help of other employees, to devise an even better version. The result: shaving an estimated 70 minutes from a 90-minute job.

About 20 years ago, Toyota set up the Toyota Production System Support Center, a nonprofit that aims to help businesses and nonprofits, like the New York Food Bank. The beneficiaries need not be in Toyota’s supply chain. Instead, the company hopes to help smaller North American companies streamline their operations and, in the process, retain and perhaps increase the number of jobs.


Discussion Questions

  1. Besides the examples given in Chapter 16 of the textbook and the aforementioned New York Times article, provide additional example(s) of lean operations from the manufacturing or service industry. Please illustrate how the lean techniques are applied in your example(s).
    • IMPORTANT: Please provide citations to your examples at the end of the main text. See the Purdue Online Writing Lab for how to cite your source appropriately.
  2. Identify case(s) in your workplace or personal life that can be transformed into a lean process, and how.