JIT Factory Revolution

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 09-06-08

Author: Hiroyuki Hirano

Publication Date: 1988

Book Description: What’s the key message?

This book, almost 20 years old, is a lost gem. It is not the most thorough or insightful book on lean, but it is clear, focused and has a heavy use of pictures. Over 200 photographs give you a great idea of what “it” looks like. The book covers basic tools and concepts of lean manufacturing. There are chapters of the 5s’s, flow, standard operations, multi-process handling, reducing worker hours, leveling production, jidoka, changeover, quality assurance, kanban, visual control and maintenance and safety. The photographs are severely dated, and from a limited breadth of manufacturing environments, but for those who have to see it to believe it, this is still effective. The photos are supplemented with bullet points, captions, the occasional paragraph and additional graphics and images. You do not read this book, you consume it or browse it. As an example, on the first page of the first chapter is this bullet point under “Defects!”:

“Defects never decrease!” “I’m tired of customer returns.” Does your plant manager talk like this?

This is not a deep book nor a philosophical one. The first chapter sets the tone and essentially lays out the challenge to improve. Little more than this is accomplished in chapter one. The second chapter is on what the author calls the Awareness Revolution. Although he doesn’t explain them, he offers “Ten Principles for Improvement.”:

  1. Throw out traditional concepts of manufacturing methods.
  2. Think of how the new method will work – not how it won’t.
  3. Don’t accept excuses. Totally deny the status quo.
  4. Don’t seek perfection. A 50-percent implementation rate is fine as long as it’s done on the spot.
  5. Correct mistakes the moment they’re found.
  6. Don’t spend money on improvements.
  7. Problems give you a chance to use your brain.
  8. Ask “why?” five times.
  9. The ideas of ten people are better than the knowledge of one person.
  10. Improvement knows no limits.

The next chapter covers, quite extensively, the 5s’s. This author has also written a book entirely on 5s’s, and puts this particular tool on a pedestal above all other lean practices. The next chapter is on flow and briefly addresses a wide range of related topics from u-shaped cells to small lot production to small in-line machines to standing (or “chair-free”) working.

Standard operations is covered next very minimally. It provides a few charts and photos, but fails to explain even briefly the why of standard operations or the cultural or implementation challenges. Multi-process handling is little more than talking again about flow work cells, but special attention is paid to putting casters on equipment so it can be easily moved. The remaining topics are covered only briefly except for a thorough examination of signboards.

How does it contribute ot the lean knowledge base?

The knowledge provided in this book is not a significant contribution. The most unique element of this body of knowledge are the Ten Principles for Improvement listed above. However, few if any books have as many pictures of lean transformation. This is essentially like a plant tour. It provides some grounding examples and a little demonstration.

What are the highlights? What works?

The strength of this book is that it is like a walking plant tour. The intended audience is a novice who is looking for some understanding and some evidence. The photos, while dated, do demonstrate some of the power of lean practices. It is also very simple and easy to digest without getting hung up on lingo, technicalities, caveats or history. The book can easily be digested in an afternoon or a plane ride, adding to its appeal. This is a classic that is still useful after a long period.

What are the weaknesses? What’s missing?

The first major weakness is the lack of content. What content exists is fragmented and a little preachy, providing little instruction on the what, why and how of lean. It is particularly preachy about the why. It is also very dated, and although the concepts of lean are timeless, pictures of lean may not be. A critical reader may not be able to see through the older photos and poor layout of the book.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

Read it and pass it on. It may be that simple. Read it cover to cover but do it rapidly. Don’t pick through it. You will get the whole picture if you read it in a sitting.