The End of Lean Production… and What’s Ahead May 02, 2024 / Kim Moody

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May 02, 2024 / Author : Kim Moody

Fonte LaborNotes che ringraziamo 

For three and a half decades, lean management drove the production and movement of goods. But now logistics and manufacturing employers are shifting to a new model. To maximize our leverage, workers should understand it.

Lean production, introduced in the 1980s from Japanese automakers, caught on in many U.S. industries. It was a whole bundle of techniques to maximize profit, including ratcheting up workloads and pace to the point of breakdown, and inviting workers to brainstorm ways to increase their own exploitation.

A central component was “just-in-time” (JIT) delivery, so companies weren’t spending to make extras or store anything until it was needed. Even within a plant, parts and supplies would arrive exactly when, where, and in the quantities they had to. Manufacturing productivity in the U.S. increased about 4 percent a year until the Great Recession of 2008-2010.

But then it collapsed, reflecting the exhaustion of lean production and its tech. The annual increase in manufacturing productivity was lagging by 2019. It rose again in 2021 as the pandemic eased, but then fell again in 2022 and 2023.

The “management-by-stress” methods weren’t working anymore. “Multifactor Productivity,” a Bureau of Labor Statistics measure of the impact of tech advances, streamlined organization, and increases in worker effort and management efficiency, dropped after 2010 to its lowest level since the crisis-ridden, pre-lean 1970s.

Technology also failed to improve worker output. A 2020 International Labour Organization study of auto plants in the U.S., Germany, and China found that the introduction of automation and robotics had “not been very successful” in restoring productivity and was often abandoned.

After a brief productivity increase in trucking and warehousing following the Great Recession, productivity in these sectors collapsed too. As of 2016, delivery times from U.S. suppliers to businesses were rising.

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