QMT News: April 2010
Is Lean manufacturing dead?

What to make of the ongoing Toyota saga of safety and quality revelations? Toyota, the originator and best exemplar of Lean manufacturing  - otherwise known as the Toyota Production System - appears not to have followed its own prescriptions in its headlong dash to be the world’s  number one car maker. 

Is the problem area mechanical, electrical, electronic, software or is it  issues with model based manufacturing, or is it management?  Classically, the quality Gurus - such as Deming, Crosby and Juran - would say it is 80%  management’s fault.  Don’t look anywhere else. But is it management of manufacturing, design,engineering, quality, reliability, safety, product recalls, regulatory compliance, SQA or even public relations? Yes, its everything and its down to management to fix it. They must get to the root causes of each problem. 

To do this means not jettisoning all the lessons so painstakingly learned from the Toyota journey  but rather, a more mindful application of the Toyota Production System. All the  tools and techniques  - SPC, Kaizen, Six Sigma and so on - must be more rigorously applied, with quality  being the key to restoring the  company’s somewhat tattered reputation. There is no doubt Toyota can do it.

After all, it is a exemplar of how to thrive in adverse circumstances and a great many people, quality gurus included, have built their careers on what they learned from Toyota. As Crosby said, ”Quality is free” but if you don’t have it (or appear not to have it), the cost can be very high indeed.

Brendan Coyne
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