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Many manufacturers today are concerned with the inefficient manufacturing and delivery practices of their company’s suppliers. Before pointing a finger accusingly at their suppliers, however, perhaps they should examine their own policies and procedures. Any manufacturer can learn this lesson from U.S. automakers, their Japanese rivals that have set up operations in the United States and the automotive suppliers that provide parts to both groups.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese auto-makers built significant production capacity in the United States, and their world-class manufacturing practices quickly became the new quality standard for the U.S. automotive industry. These practices went well beyond the just-in-time (JIT) delivery of parts to a plant and included all aspects of lean manufacturing. (See “Lean Manufacturing and Just-In-Time Delivery.”) The transplanted Japanese automakers, with their lean focus, realized that their success depended on developing a local supply base, which meant sharing with U.S. suppliers the innovative manufacturing-management practices and technologies that made similar plants so competitive in Japan.1 Some skeptics claimed that lean manufacturing would never work in North America, considering the continent’s size and transportation systems that might not be able to deliver materials reliably just in time. But Japanese companies in the United States seemed to prove otherwise. U.S. automobile manufacturers began following the lead of their Japanese counterparts, transforming themselves in the lean direction and demanding JIT logistics from their suppliers. See sidebar.
1. R. Cole, “Managing Quality Fads: How American Business Learned To Play the Quality Game” (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999);
T.M. Laseter, “Balanced Sourcing: Cooperation and Competition in Supplier Relationships” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998); and
J.P. MacDuffie and S. Helper, “Creating Lean Suppliers,” California Management Review 39, no. 4 (1997): 118–151.
2. R.T. Lubben, “Just-In-Time Manufacturing” (New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1988); and
K. Suzaki, “The New Manufacturing Challenge: Techniques for Continuous Improvement” (New York: Free Press, 1987).
3. S.R. Helper and M. Sako, “Supplier Relations in Japan and the United States: Are They Converging?” Sloan Management Review 36, no. 3 (spring 1995): 77–84; and
J. Womack, D.T. Jones and D. Roos, “The Machine That Changed The World” (New York: Rawson Associates, 1990).
4. K. Mishina, “Johnson Controls, Automotive Systems Group: The Georgetown, Kentucky, Plan,” Harvard Business School case no. 9-693-086 (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1993).
5. P.D. Jenkins and R. Florida, “Work System Innovation Among Japanese Transplants,” in “Remade in America: Transplanting and Transforming Japanese Management Systems,” eds., J.K. Liker, W.M. Fruin and P.A. Adler (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 331–360.
6. S.M. Lee and A. Ansari, “Comparative Analysis of Japanese Just-in-Time Purchasing and Traditional U.S. Purchasing Systems,” International Journal of Operations & Production Management 5, no. 4 (1985): 5–14.
7. R.J. Schonberger and A. Ansari, “Just-In-Time Purchasing Can Improve Quality,” Journal of Purchasing and Materials Management 20, no. 1 (1984): 2–7.
8. J.K. Liker, “Becoming Lean: Inside Stories of U.S. Manufacturers” (Portland, Oregon: Productivity Press: 1997).
9. B.J. Coleman and M.R. Vaghefi, “Heijunka: A Key to the Toyota Production System,” Production and Inventory Management Journal (fourth quarter 1994): 31–35.
10. “The Toyota Production System” (Toyota City, Japan: Toyota Motor Corp., International Public Affairs Division & Operations Management Consulting Division, 1995).
11. H.L. Lee, V. Padmanabhan and S. Whang, “The Bullwhip Effect in Supply Chains,” Sloan Management Review 38, no. 3 (spring 1997): 93–102.
12. “The Toyota Production System” (1995).
13. J.J. Gentry, “Role of Carriers in Buyer-Supplier Strategic Partnerships: A Supply Chain Management Approach,” Journal of Business Logistics 17, no. 2 (1996): 35–55.
14. J. Karlin, J.K. Liker and M. Wheeler, “Applying Toyota Production Systemw Principles to Cross-Dock Operations” (chapter in proceedings of Material Handling Institute of America conference, York, Virginia, May 2000).