The New Manufacturing Challenge: Techniques for Continuous Improvement

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on September 6, 2008

Author: Kiyoshi Suzaki

Publication Date: 1987

Book Description: What’s the key message?

The book is an introduction to continuous improvement in manufacturing, with an emphasis on the shop floor. It works for the beginner, with a minimum of jargon or Japanese terminology. It encompasses all the basic techniques of what we now call lean manufacturing with an action-oriented approach. The first chapter focuses on eliminating waste with not only definitions but examples or cases on the elimination of waste. Chapters 2 through 12 focus on the tools and application of lean, including a cursory overview of 5S, setup reduction, developing flow with a particular focus on process layout, skill development and multi-process handling, process analysis and improvement, jidoka, andon, poke-yoke, preventive maintenance, leveled production, standard work, kanban and even conveyors. While none of these are covered in great depth, the reader will understand what and why with a dose of how. The remainder of the book covers more broad issues than tools such as supplier engagement, total versus local optimization and people engagement. Some of the insights in these chapters are only 15-20 years later becoming well understood. Overall, this book paints a picture of shop-floor driven and focused continuous improvement on a daily basis that engages both all employees and the tools and techniques of lean.

How does it contribute ot the lean knowledge base?

There is nothing in The New Manufacturing Challenge this is not covered well in other books. Suzaki himself notes in his introduction. The book’s simplicity is an advantage and as a result it was well used as a teaching tool by many organizations, contributing to it’s longevity. And although the numerous examples drawn from many companies around the world date from the 1980s, they still convey new ideas for many readers. At the time of its release there was probably no other book as broad and practical at applying lean. And it’s ability to capture the human element of lean was left unmatched for many years.

What are the highlights? What works?

The book works its way through the lean toolbox, showing how the tools are used and how they fit together. The language and examples are simple, and accessible to anyone willing to take the time to read it.

The book is notable for Suzaki’s use of visual representations of the concepts he means to convey. Not everyone learns well from written text, and not everyone reading a written text takes the time to fully concentrate on what it is saying. Suzaki’s stick people effectively show how work can be improved. He also uses simple graphics to illustrate concepts such as the difference between batch and mixed model production.

Many subtleties that took many years for others to discover and absorb are capture throughout the book. Many of these key points were lost on a generally inexperienced reader, but the concepts hold up over time and reflects the depth of lean principles.

What are the weaknesses? What’s missing?

Like any broad introduction, the book can give an explanation and a few illustrations and ideas on a range of subjects, but cannot go much further. Also, the beginning reader won’t find the standard Japanese lexicon, and may struggle a bit to connect terms he or she has heard with some of the concepts in the book. The age of the examples means that some companies may no longer be performing well, or may even have gone out of business. That shouldn’t affect the credibility of the book, however. Sustaining lean gains is notoriously difficult.

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

The book is simple enough to read straight through, but the reader should go back and spend more time with the illustrations and diagrams. Rereading sections periodically would be a good idea as well – especially if you read it some years ago. You could also skip around instead of reading chapters sequentially as the topics and structure is pretty modular.

If you want to use the book as a training tool, there are a couple of options. One is the reading group approach. Taking a chapter a week, all the members of the group are charged with reading it, and the group discusses it together. The applicability of the chapters 1-12 makes this effective. Individual members of the group might take turns leading discussion in successive weeks.

Suzaki also made a video series with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. It includes factory footage and interview-style discussion of the topics. It is 3.75 hours and comes with an instructor’s guide and workbooks for a price of $1,110.


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