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Can Anyone Out-Lean Toyota?

November 2, 2009
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Anyone who’s ever applied lean manufacturing principles knows that Toyota Motor Corp. is like the sun. The lean world revolves around the Japanese automaker. No other manufacturer is more synonymous with continuous improvement, kaizen, standardization, visual management, just-in-time inventory and other lean concepts than Toyota. The company has been studied and benchmarked by thousands of manufacturers in a wide range of industries.

It’s been 20 years since two events sent a seismic wave through the U.S. manufacturing community: Toyota opened its first U.S. assembly plant in Georgetown, KY, and the landmark lean book, The Machine That Changed the World, was first published. Over the last decade, I’ve had a chance to visit several different Toyota facilities (including Georgetown and Tsutsumi-Toyota City). I’ve always been very impressed with the company’s lean discipline and production philosophy. But, I’ve often wondered, “Why can’t anyone else do what these guys consistently do so successfully?”

During a recent lean manufacturing session that I moderated at the 2009 Assembly Technology Expo in Rosemont, IL, I asked one of the speakers if any other manufacturers rival Toyota when it comes to applying and profiting from lean. In other words, does anyone out-lean Toyota?

The only name that came up was Hypertherm Inc. In fact, Kevin Duggan, a lean consultant based in North Kingstown, RI, claims that company is even better than Toyota.

Never heard of Hypertherm? The Hanover, NH, company is a leading manufacturer of plasma metal cutting equipment. Its products are used by thousands of manufacturers around the world.

By applying lean tools and simplifying product designs through DFMA software, Hypertherm has decreased labor costs by more than 50 percent. That has helped the company improve productivity, slash warranty costs and compete effectively against its offshore rivals. Hypertherm actually exports the majority of the products that it assembles in New Hampshire to Asia, Europe and South America.

I know there are other top-notch lean companies like Hypertherm out there. A few that come to mind are Danaher Corp, Pella Corp. and United Technologies Corp. (especially its Pratt & Whitney division). The recipient of our 2009 Assembly Plant of the Year award (Batesville Casket Co.) also is a lean leader (see “Lean Lives at Batesville Casket Co.” in the October issue). In Europe, Porsche is well known for running a very lean operation.

But, that’s just a handful of companies. Surely, there must be others out there. Do you know any manufacturers that do as good a job (or better) than Toyota when it comes to lean? If so, I’d love to know who they are.
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Vibco

Chris Kardos
November 2, 2009
We recently had a tour of Vibco, a maker of industrial vibrators in Rhode Island. They have applied lean priciples to every aspect of their business, from manufacturing to administrative duties. They've gone from parts taking 2 weeks, to guaranteed same day/next day. Definately worth a look.

Is this the right question?

Mark Graban
November 3, 2009
I think the point isn't to "out-Lean" anybody. The point is to be the best company you can be in terms of providing value to customers - improving quality, reducing cost, reducing lead time, improving employee morale. The long-term bottom line is ultimately what counts, not any measure (subjective or objective) of "lean-ness."

Wrong question?

Jamie Flinchbaugh
November 4, 2009
Whether Hypertherm is actually irrelevant (although I doubt they are). The question should be about customers and competitiveness. The only companies that Toyota should be worried about are Honda, Ford, Renault, etc. Danaher shouldn't care what Toyota's doing and vice versa. Lean isn't the goal, it's a means to the end. Toyota-worship is not leading the lean community forward. Jamie Flinchbaugh www.jamieflinchbaugh.com

2 Lean cents here

Enrique Mora
November 7, 2009
I don´t see anyone mentioning KIA and Hyundai, while they are definitely setting a new dimension in quality, innovation, and top lean performance. In a few ways they are outdoing our desrevingly admired Toyota

Two Levels of Lean

John Witcher
November 13, 2009
By the time of Jim Womack's first visit to Japan, Toyota was moving away from lean achieved in early seventies. By that standard Toyota is no longer lean. Nor are any of the other companies cited. A large part of the difference absence of overhead. There are a number of highly successful lean operations but most don't want others to know for competitive reasons. They also lack the staff to even apply for any of the recognized manufacturing excellence awards. They aren't hard to find though. Just look for those who routinely defeat off shore competition.

Get Lean or Give Up

Bill Gaw
November 17, 2009
Innovation, Technology, and Salesmanship have permitted many US companies to compete successfully in the manufacturing sector. But without a Lean Culture, they will have a difficult time competing as time goes by. Gross profit margins are what separates the winners from the also ran and a lean initiative is the way to higher gross profit margins.

Lean

Dennis Hyde
November 17, 2009
Perhaps you've heard of Boeing ....

Not on the Toyota bandwagon

Nick C.
November 17, 2009
Toyota has been overcredited with lean techniques. I agree they are very successful at what they do, but I would love to challenge them in my industry. Custom upholstery...75-80 options per piece of furniture. How lean do you think they'd make that? I've witnessed firsthand how difficult it is to implement lean in this enviroment. Come up with a very successful system for this and you've done something.

WHAT LEAN IS NOT!!!!!

Fran B.
November 17, 2009
Mr. Flinchbaugh is absolutely correct. The question isn't about "out leaning" the Toyota as the "gold standard" or any other company for that matter. Let's face it; we are not Toyota! Therefore our results will differ from Toyota's because of how well and how often the tools are applied, our discipline to following the systems we establish and how well we engage the voice of our customers. Regardless of what you call it; i.e. Lean, Six Sigma, TQM, DFx, TPS or any other acronym; each of these names represent a group of tools and methodologies that helps us on the journey to success. The reality is this: Today's economy is being driven largely by price sensitive, intelligent and informed consumers who do not have a lot of disposable income and expect to get the most from their purchases. As a result, companies cannot afford to lose margin, market share or any competitive advantage. Since Toyota has been so successful; many companies feel compelled to utilize these tools and methodologies as a prescription for success. Keep in mind that the application of these tools or methods in a vacuum or individually will not be the savior of your company. If you want the true "SILVER BULLET" to obtain success in today's economy - Have the drive and discipline to utilize the tools and sustain the initiative for the long haul. Rome was NOT built in a day. Nor was Toyota!

Following Toyota

Albert P
November 18, 2009
Is the point that to always follow you will never lead. If we continue to follow TPS we will always trail Toyota who invented it out of necessity. What really is required is a new system that accomodates todays market forces rather than the ones that existed for Toyota in the 1960's.

Journey

Bart G
November 18, 2009
The closer you get, the farther away you are...The destination, or the goal, is what has to be first and foremost. What questions are we trying to answer and if we had the answer, what would we do with it? Staying in business is the end goal and using different tools & methods to get there will be different for each of us. Sacrificing key elements for short-term gain is what has caused (forced) many to forego the end goal and settle for a much shorter destination. My thoughts.

Lean is not destination, its a continuous journey

Manjunath
November 19, 2009
Out-Lean???? Lean is a continuous journey. We can continue to be lean and leaner, Eliminate waste and keep acheiving customer delight and your share holders satisfaction. There is no end to lean.

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