History of Lean Manufacturing


    It is not always easy to tell exactly at what stage or when the concrete phase of lean production has started…. I will try to mention the most important milestones that I think are the most significant to the chapter "History of lean manufacturing."
Beginnings are always difficult, and thus it was also at the launch of such called mass production. Entrepreneurs at the end of the 19th century obviously wanted to produce the goods bringing them high profit at the lowest possible costs. Frederick Winslow Taylor was maybe not the first inventor, but his theory for sure meant a great milestone for the Lean Management. His methods being improved to the present form are used also today. As an example I can mention “standardized work” or “time studies” and “working standards”. The problem of that epoch was the lack of information technology, computers, and other devices that are an integrated part of our work life today. Taylor has created a number of standards, time studies, work images, however he has run up against complexity of the individual working steps as well as not very simple implementation of used measurements and data.

In the same period of time Frank Gilbreth had worked on time study, such called "Motion Study" and on working, respectively procedure diagrams.

Henry Ford is however the most important inventor of lean production of this period. His first serial produced car "metal Lisa" - Ford T became the best-selling car of that automotive era. Ford had sold more than 15 million vehicles during the period starting from 1908 till 1927.


The problems related to the increasing customer´s demand Henry Ford began to solve by various improvements in his manufacturing process. One of the first rules, very important for lean production, was a principle that "a work must come to the worker and not the worker to the work." This precondition was successfully managed by Ford´s the first mobile production line, respectively assembly line. From the beginning the conveyor belt of the assembly line was driven by the workers, who pulled a rope, and thus moved the line. Later Ford started to use a horse power and after that a driving mechanism. Henry Ford employed for his production lines the findings of Frederick Taylor. He had assigned 20 workers, placed them to specific positions along the assembly conveyor belt and set them clearly defined production tasks. Big advantage of that era was the fact that for such an assembly of the car there were very well and a for long time trained workers, specialists in their work tasks. After launch of the new production system Henry Ford was able to train each worker directly to his specific position along the assembly line and for assigned production procedure in very short period. This production method has increased not only the productivity itself, but also the quality of the products and in this way the customer´s demands could be met faster.


Henry Ford has divided his entire philosophy into the three main rules:

1.planned and organized movement of the product along the production plant

2.supply of the work to the worker

3.thorough analysis of working procedures and its thorough description for each working position

Henry Ford has become an example of new innovations and progressive ideas. During his life he has collected more than 160 patents.


    In our region Tomáš Baťa, the famous shoemaker, was also one of the biggest innovators of lean production methods. In the matter of fact he was a follower of Henry Ford, but he proceeded even further in utilization of lean production methods. Bata’s effort was to mechanize the production as much as possible. He personally set out to America, directly to Henry Ford´s plant, where he gained abundance of inspirations. He was obviously interested in organization of work, remuneration system, and creation of system of work task description for each individual work position and procedure. He was the first one who has started to exploit assembly conveyors in shoemaking industry. 

Top principles of his management style were:

  • Entrepreneurship is a service for society
  • Production is a service to customer
  • Workers  gradually change to workmates and further to entrepreneurs
  • Creation of independent production divisions
  • Introduction of system of quality
  • Introduction of system of product quality grades
  • Emphasis on creativity, new knowledge and its actual implementation.

 In the 50ies, after the 2nd World War, Toyota – founded in 1937, has experienced the very first strike of its workers. During resolving the strike, workers, employees and company representatives united together to find a solution that would get the company out of crisis. Cooperation and trust among employees has become a company philosophy and a basis for the entire system, which Toyota created. 




Establishment of the Toyota Production System has changed the whole manufacturing industry forever. In an effort to catch up American competition Toyota has created its own system that was improved during three years to such a point that via its utilization the American competitors were not only caught up but even left behind. Taiichi Ohno was the man who has introduced this changeover at automotive production market. His slogan has become “our customer is our king”.

The core fact of the whole system is an extreme reduction of waste, elimination of all costs that are not paid by customer and therefore they are a loss for the company. One of the first and the most important principles is the Just In Time, sometimes referred to as 5S: The right part at the right place in the right time in the right quantity and of the right quality – to be manufactured, assembled and transported. Everything beyond this production flow is already assumed as a waste.

50-ties and 60-ties of the 20th century were probably essential for development of lean management. Toyota has started to combine and synchronize the various production lines and divisions. It was the first step to start up KANBAN - the system for production control. This system has been fully in operation already in the sixties, when “Pallet kanban” was exploited in the first phase. Later “Supermarkets” were established directly next to the production lines. During this period a colour differentiation for control of KANBAN production was created (green, yellow and red coloured labels).

Concurrently with this process there was a need to shrink production batches and to be more flexible as for production in order to offer the customer just what he really wants and pays for. This is a reason why Toyota launched a SMED concept. While at the beginning of lean production management the production lines were aligned, respectively type-converted within   two or three hours, over 15 years the time of conversion could be shortened to 15 minutes. And in next 10 years the production lines could be adjusted in less than three minutes.

To continue and even make a progress with the lean production there were invented ANDON and JIDOKA  - 2 new methods to prevent unnecessary stoppage and to assure rapid response to the problem.

During this period (1950 - 1970), Toyota has managed to create an effective system of quality control. One of the tools that is used also today is for example ISHIKAWA diagram or diagram “herringbone”. It's a tool that can sort problems in terms of material, environment, used methods, human factor and equipment.

Poka-Yoke, Muri, Muda, Mura, Kaizen, and Heijunka Genba, are other tools belonging to the Toyota Production System.

Toyota Production System is today one of the subjects taught at universities. However, it become well-known for general public after edition of the book "The machine change the world" by James P. Womack. James P. Womack, the director of the Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, carried out a research focused on comparison of the 2 world´s biggest automotive manufacturers’ plants, on GM and Toyota.

One of the interesting findings mentioned in this book, was comparison of the productive and non-productive plant. In productive plant he has found from all of the compared parameters only a half, for example half  number of employees, half size of production facilities, half time for research and development, half investment into tools, and even less than a half of the stock reserves. He has clarified that these facts could not be explained by the degree of automation, by higher investments, by the number of units produced, by concentration on limited production range, shorter working hours, or cultural and political differences.
After the publication of this book Toyota Production System began to be world well-known and its principles started to be widely implemented.


Have you already started with lean production at your plant as well?