Henri Ford, the Dearborn man on the outskirts of Detroit, the father of the famous Ford T, which was released in 1908, is at the origin of many principles of lean manufacturing. He is at the origin of the extraordinary boom of the automobile industry! With hindsight, we realize that the explosion of an industry is the result of two fundamental elements that go together:
Engineering and Common Sense
Moreover, at first, the genius, who has a vision of what to do, is often mistaken for a madman! This was the case during the invention of the steam engine by James Watt for example. And when Henri Ford launched his famous Ford T, by developing a revolutionary assembly line in 1908, it was actually taken for a madman.
But in 1999, he was named by FORTUNE magazine as one of the “four businessmen of the century” for his innovations. When he started his business, in short, cars always broke down and he was able to make them reliable, strong and inexpensive to produce.
This, because it knew how to build them on the very basis of one of the fundamentals of the famous lean management of today, that is to say by eliminating all wastes. In a very short time, barely 20 years, Henri Ford has radically changed the way of designing the manufacturing industries.
First of all, it has converted a farm workforce into a workforce of competent and motivated operators for its car factories. Today, the same problem arises. How to make work on a production line, motivated operators who work in a coordinated, united, precise way using the minimum of material to arrive at the good result as well in quality as in quantity?
We have more modern equipment than its time but it is proven that to reach an optimum manufacturing, we must first invest on men. Material investment comes only as a last resort; otherwise it only hides a lack of efficiency. This is what Ford did by creating a Human Resources department to look after men to have a highly skilled and motivated workforce.
His second innovation, found in the lean, is the very design of the operator stations to minimize the loss of time due to inappropriate travel.
The third innovation was to standardize operations to create small, highly operational and competent specialized teams. The next step was to time the operations to make them reproducible. As soon as you get to this result, it is possible to move on to the next step, building what is called in the lean a manufacturing line or mobile assembly line.
By doing so, he put industries on the voice of continuous flow manufacturing. This is the only option to achieve mass production at the lowest price, in the desired quality. Many industries have followed suit, but the most extraordinary in history is that, even today, some industrial companies are behind in this area compared to Ford. The purpose of lean management is to enable them to make up for this delay.
Vision and realism are needed to achieve great things. Henri Ford had both! In his case, his vision was a car for every American home. Then he racked his brains to know how to produce to achieve this result. He put the customer at the center of his vision by asking himself what was most important to him.
He did not forget the goals of his company. Make your life easier to reach to perfectly satisfy the customer on the 4 previous points. So that the customer had no choice on the color: every Ford T was black. Contrary to an idea often stated, the customer is not the king. It is normal to satisfy him to a certain extent, which Fort understood.
Ford’s main concern was to go from the human to integrate a whole sector: the iron that the mines provided him with, a capable, trained and motivated workforce that works in an impeccably coordinated way, well paid also to be able to afford … a car. As a result, his factories were not wasted in material or time.
With this vision that he has achieved, he was way ahead of his time! Incredible, but true, as many of these innovations have been forgotten, lost by the industry, at least for US and European manufacturers, we have regressed from the performance of early twentieth-century Ford factories.
In parentheses, it seems that the same thing happened with the program Apollo rockets whose goal was “Objectify Lune” It is not said that the Americans could still make such a rocket.
That said Ford’s vision was saved from oblivion during Norman Bede’s travels to Japan in the 1980s. Bodek, founder of Press Productivity (New York), translated the Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo books into English to promote lean in North America. During a visit to Toyota Motor Co. (Tokyo), Bodek notices a book that often appears on Toyota’s executive offices.
He inquired what it was. And the answer is, “Today and tomorrow. From Henri FORD. Back in the United States, he tries to get the title, but he is exhausted. It is a mystery to know why such an important book may have disappeared from the United States. While the Japanese, especially Toyota, use it as a founding text in the development of lean!
Ford’s vision has been intrinsically linked to lean management principles, such as the systematic elimination of waste. This gave him a considerable lead over his competitors he left behind. His vision, yet to be realized, was: “It must be possible to arrive at a steady and continuous workflow, without waste in matter or time when each operation produced certainly satisfies the customer. Ideally, this vision is the norm in all industries! ”
Ford led the way, Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno followed suit. And today, an awakening is taking place in many industries that are launching lean plans with the help of experienced consultants.
Perhaps in this way, Ford’s vision will be fully realized if all industries believe in their ability to realize it for the benefit of their employees, their shareholders and their customers. And in 100 years, when we look back on our time, business leaders who have achieved this vision will be seen, like Henri Ford, as personalities who have made their mark.