Free «Lean Production in a Changing Competitive World: A Japanese Perspective» Essay

Lean Production in a Changing Competitive World: A Japanese Perspective

Introduction

The book The Machine that Changed the World, which is about lean attitudes and projects, has greatly influenced the production systems design theories. The implementation of the principles has demonstrated such good results that almost every part of the world has adopted total quality management (TQM), just-in-time (JT) and total productive management (TMP) attitudes. Thus, the implementation of these tactics has set a new pace of competition to the production in any aspects.

Thereafter, the objective of the following report is to speak about lean production and the data on four manufacturing plants in Japan. It argues that the strategies that were used in 1980 are no longer reliable, and other methods that would foster new initiatives and further development on the market should be implemented.

Concept of Lean Production

The concept of lean production was successfully implemented on Toyota, but there are certain inconsistencies. Firstly, the 1980’s are famous for bubble economy and high demand for vehicles. Secondly, the Japanese inspect their vehicles quite often, which is why they tend to buy new cars. This was a benefit for domestic manufactures as people are ready to expect new models much quicker than others are. Thereafter, the market share expansion was the main objective in terms of competiveness. Kaizen events have helped to reduce costs and led to price competition, and bubble economy has reinforced high sales. Thus, the situation has changed with time as the domestic sales decreased, and exports could not compensate the gap.

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Change of Situation: External and Internal Factors

The changing economy have led to questions regarding the effectiveness of lean methodologies and the types of external and internal triggers that shake the production as well as the cost-improving initiatives. The first external factor that came to the Japanese market was the more frequent traffic increase with a smaller supply of goods. This led to blockage of highways, pollution concerns and unneeded energy consumption. Moreover, the big variety of products and items made people unhappy as they turned to be obsolete after the purchase. The high value of yen as well as setting the factories owned by Japanese abroad was another factor that influenced the situation. The lower price of production resulted in high exports of the off-site manufactured parts, which caused a decrease in the domestic plants demand.

 
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Workforce was the main internal factor as the aging population does not adopt new practices as good as youngsters do. Moreover, labor shortage increases year after year and production should be increased due to lack of employees and higher wages for aging population. Another obstacle to lean production in automotive industry is the desire of workers to work there as the job is complicated and required much more working hours than in European countries.

Case Studies

The following paper shall include information that was introduced by the authors and is related to actual case studies. It included the questionnaires and the on-site visits in 1995 to Japanese production areas. The questions that were asked concerned production systems changes, the state of development of TPM and TQM, current competitive strategies, and the future plans of the companies. The plants from electrical, automobile and electronics assembly areas participated in the research.

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The case study of the Plant A, which was a representative of the automotive industry, was facing the abovementioned problems due to decreased demand. Its productivity is high and has only a few temporary workers on site. It has implemented lean production very successfully, while there are no items inward of the warehouse and the goods are delivered in small amount and on time. The main features of the Plant A include a shift stoppage 25 minutes earlier (due to decreased demand) so that operators can do the cleaning; job rotation occurs regularly in assembly lines, which helps to get more skills and motivation; kaizen activities are supported.

Plant B was producing spare parts for telecommunications and operated within a loop of high and predictable volumes. The lines produce multiple models and variations of switchers that require high flexibility. The complexity of production requires multiple operations, and the end process is done manually as its automation would not be beneficial in terms of cost. The main features state that there is a need to improve the production operations of the small batches as the manual component cannot be avoided; a need to improve and upstream the processes related to bare boards design, etc.; flexibility of production lines and assembly systems; and resource efficiency improvement in group technology.

Plant C was producing electrical appliances and sold around 90 percent of refrigerators to the domestic market. Due to the need of mixed models, the utilization of certain lines was low, but it required only one operator per line. The key features revealed after the research stated that the plant had decreased efficiency, but it was balanced with the lower start-up time. In addition, eight models create much diversity and mixed production, but there is a threat that nine models would not be launched due to possible low efficiency. The balance of production line is present due to the spacing.

The fourth Plant D was producing domestic air conditioners. The features that have been spotted include the fact that seasonality influences production a lot; manual assembly; parts are produced with the help of automation; and negative trend of the rise of yen has threatened the plant with a potential closure.

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Conclusion

As it has been mentioned before, lean initiatives are the best in class of producing goods. The book speaks about Japanese manufacturers who have managed to achieve high performance with fewer people and less costs. The key components of lean process involve shorter production movements, fewer materials, fewer stoppages, and come out with such results as better technical specifications, higher productivity, quality and others. Thus, the concept of lean production is no longer effective and, as shown by the four case studies, production site has many losses despite the lean initiatives. Moreover, despite lean production initiatives, external and internal factors influence their performance mostly in a negative way and prevent them from future improvements and innovations.

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Recommendations

As a recommendation, it is important to mention that lean production is no longer effective in the shade of the changing economy, and the best offer is the adoption of such notion as “adaptable production”, where methodologies and technologies are gathered together with the target of being adapted to the need. Adoptable production is better to use within the scope of low demand. It shall generate lower fixed costs and its software shall record the flexibility capabilities. Acquisition of new products facilities as well as new product development that lower fixed costs are another benefits. Other recommendations include the usage of manual work when needed to avoid high-expenses related to machines, strong support of manual work by techniques and poke-yoke that would help to increase productivity, support of job rotation, and the usage of technological solutions to upstream processes related to flexibility and variety, and other (Katayama & Bennett, 1996).

 

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