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Is Lean Manufacturing Possible in China?

June 22, 2013

 by Renaud Anjoran


Many people believe that lean principles cannot be applied in China.

This is WRONG. And the reason is simple: tens, if not hundreds, of lean manufacturers are already operating in China.

They are not soliciting new customers and showing their workshops as much as their competitors, since their happy customers don't let them down. But it doesn't mean they don't exist.

We need to debunk a number of misconceptions.


Myth #1 - Lean is a Japanese Approach to Manufacturing

Toyota, the first truly lean modern producer, happens to be Japanese.

But the lean approach, in itself, is not Japanese.

Toyota managers were heavily inspired by Ford's founder's experiments in the 1910s and by Training Within Industry (a programme implemented in the US during World War II). They used concepts from different countries (for example, the "takt time" comes from German plane manufacturers).


Myth #2 - Most Japanese Factories are Lean

In reality, a small minority of them are lean.

Especially if you remove Toyota's direct competitors (Honda, Nissan) and Toyota's suppliers (who received lots of advice and direction since the 1970s).

To put it in perspective, less than 1% of all factories, worldwide, have adopted lean principles. It is not dominant in any country, simply because it is not the easy and intuitive way to organize production.


Myth #3 - Lean Manufacturing Doesn't Work Well Outside of Japan

In the 1980s, General Motors had just closed one of its worst plants (in Fremont, California).

Toyota agreed to re-open that plant and make its cars there, in a JV agreement with GM. After a few years, this plant (NUMMI) was producing the highest-quality cars in North America, according to consumer reports!

In the US, hundreds of manufacturers have gone lean. They make electrical equipment, leather, furniture, and the list goes on.

Some successful lean initiatives were recorded in many countries with wildly different cultures: Germany, India, Argentina, Mexico, and so on.

And it does work in China. See a case study.


22 Signs Of Good Factory Management in China eBook

Topics: Lean Manufacturing

Renaud Anjoran

Renaud Anjoran

15 years experience in China.
Partner, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Worked with hundreds of factories in China.
Certifications: ASQ CQE & CRE; ISO 9001 & 14001 lead auditor.
Author of well-read blog, Quality Inspection Tips.

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