A historical moment in manufacturing passed in April: Quarterly sales reports for car companies noted that Toyota Motor Corp. sold more cars than General Motors Corp., making Toyota the leading car company in the world.
The fact that Toyota surpassed General Motors comes 20 years after lean manufacturing was called "The Machine That Changed the World" in the famous study and book produced by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos. If you haven't, you should read that book.
It pointed out that lean manufacturing was superior to mass manufacturing, and it predicted, in 1987, that lean manufacturing would displace mass manufacturing globally.
With Toyota's ascendancy over General Motors, it is likely that the first quarter of this year will be pointed to as the moment that the mass manufacturing process, as it was invented by Henry Ford and perfected by General Motors under the leadership of Alfred P. Sloan, breathed its last.
Toyota's manufacturing system is built on the concept of continuous improvement, and it has many components, including benchmarking. The idea is that you can't make a plan to determine where you want to go if you don't know where you are.
We have just finished the 2007 American Machinist Benchmarking Survey, and I'm looking forward this year to producing reports on the results.
We developed our survey specifically as a tool that our readers could use to make their operations more competitive and more profitable.
This isn't the answer to all of the problems a shop may have, but it is another tool in your box that can help you to find answers and to go about solving your problems in a rational way.
Simply put, our survey of the U.S. machine shop industry — and its results — is a modern manufacturing tool to help shops to know how they are doing, where their competitors are, and to form the basis for a plan for improvement and growth.
That benchmarking is a component of the leading manufacturing system in the world — the manufacturing system developed by Toyota Motor Corp. — is beyond dispute.
However, there are still some old codgers that cling to mass manufacturing and may be skeptical about the benefits of new manufacturing techniques. They just don't get it.
Fortunately, however, there are many smart companies around the world that have — or are — adopting the ideas of lean manufacturing and other continuous-improvement initiatives, and the future belongs to them.
The fact that more of our readers —10 percent more — took the time to fill out the survey indicates to us that they agree.
Job shop owners and managers are survivors, and they are practical. They know a good idea when they see it, and — like any good machinist from any era of manufacturing — they are quick to take up a useful new tool and put it to work.
Based on the amount of time that it took to fill out the survey, we estimate that the survey results represent more than six weeks of work. We appreciate the investment you have made in this tool and, as I said, I'm looking forward to returning the results to you in several reports.
We are giving this valuable tool right back to you, for you to use when you need and in any way that it will be helpful to you and your business.
We will present our primary report on the survey in July, and we will make all of the survey results available on the Internet shortly after that report is published. Then, we will follow up the survey with reports on individual topics over the course of the year.
Thanks for your help.