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Posted January 23, 2006
I think this book is largely bogus. Sure there is logic in having an efficient system to your manufacturing process and in buying the machines you actually need instead of something too big or too inflexible. But while the Japanese may have ninjas and 'Asian sexual secrets,' they haven't discovered any new principles of manufacturing that we insecure Americans didn't already know a long time ago. Despite the stylish Japanese mumbo-jumbo, there isn't much in this 'lean thinking' that Henry Ford didn't already have figured out by 1914, although the limitations of the technology of that day prevented him from implimenting his ideas fully. Speaking of Henry Ford, among the historical inaccuracies in this book is the oft-repeated untruth that all the millions of Ford Model T cars produced over 19 years were all exactly alike. The truth is that several body styles, ranging from open touring cars to 'Torpedo Roadsters' to closed sedans were produced, and the entire line went through at least two major styling changes and thousands of mechanical improvements. Some parts of this book just don't make any sense at all, revealing amazingly poor writing on the part of the authors and -- given that this is the revised edition -- an astonishing lack of critical thinking on the part of eager readers. For example, on page 178 it is told how Pratt & Whitney replaced a particularly inefficient turbine blade grinding machine with 'eight simple three-axis grinding machines.' But in the very next paragraph they mention 'each of the nine machines,' and then go on to say, 'The number of parts in the process would fall from about 1,640 to 15 (one in each machine plus one waiting to start and one blade just completed).' Then to top it off, the text is accompanied by a diagram showing a grinding process with eight grinders and two EDM machines. I can see I'm not the only one who flunked math here. Additionally, the book is full of stories of Japanese lean thinking gurus walking into American factories without advance notice and ordering that all the production machinery be uprooted and repositioned -- immediately. Supposedly, this is done and things brought up to running condition again in six or eight hours, with greatly improved efficiency. Where I come from, we have bothersome things like OSHA rules and the National Electrical Code that prevent us from just sliding around 100 ton presses and precision-levelled CNC machine tools like so many couches and chairs. Also telling is the example the authors themselves picked to illustrate their concept of 'flow.' One of them asked his daughters, aged six and nine, what would be the best way to fold, address, seal, stamp and mail the monthly issue of their mother's newsletter. The girls naturally replied that you ought to concentrate on one task at a time, and process all the newsletters up to that point before moving on to the next step. But the authors assert that this is wrong, and that this type of work can be done more efficiently by carrying one workpiece through to completion before starting on the next workpiece. Aside from the cruelty of forcing his daughters to walk out to the mailbox and back 547 times, I can tell you from long experience that this is 100% pure BS. Flow is great, as Henry Ford used flow. But to make a blanket statement that it is better to keep one workpiece in hand and pick up ten tools, than it is to keep one tool in hand and pick up ten workpieces, is just plain wrong. It is the tool that requires technique and concentration and uniformity of use, not the workpiece. By spotlighting this ill-chosen example, the authors have revealed in their own introduction a total lack of real-world experience and a disdain for common sense that runs throughout the entire book.
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Posted November 21, 2009
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