Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma Definitions

Glossary terms, history, people and definitions about Lean and Six Sigma

The most popular improvement methodologies today are Lean and Six Sigma.

Where did these approaches come from?

In a quest to better understand the history and network of quality experts, improvement tools, books, and companies, I’ve been researching and tracing back the roots.

I would recommend starting with some of the key personnel within both methodologies, then reading and following the links of Influences and Influenced based on your interest.

Another approach is to review some technical advances in production methods from all over the world (most shared by Jim Womack in his book, Gemba Walks and his article on LEI). Unfortunately, many of the early advancements were focused on military and war time activities.

  • 1574 – Venice Arsenal setup a war ship galley assembly process with continuous flow, going from start to finish in less than an hour.
  • 1733 – Abraham de Moivre and Pierre-Simon Laplace developed statistical concepts including probability and the normal curve.
  • 1765 – French general Jean-Baptiste de Gribeauval implemented standard specifications for guns to improve battlefield repairs using interchangeable parts and increasing ease of handling for soldiers.
  • 1807 – Marc Brunel in England devised equipment for making identical rope blocks one at a time.
  • 1822 – Thomas Blanchard at the Springfield Armory laid out machines in a cellular manufacturing arrangement to build complex gunstocks for rifles.
  • 1913 – Henry Ford opened the Highland Park plant, the first factory to assemble cars on a moving assembly line. This also coincided with advancements in variation reduction in metal cutting and gauging technology.
  • Late 1930’s – German aircraft fuselage assembly built to takt time. They shared the technique through a partnership with Mitsubishi in Japan, and ultimately spread to nearby Toyota.
  • 1950 – Toyota integrates takt time with continuous flow assembly line production, while adding flexibility to the work. They were able to build products with high complexity, high quality, wide variety, small batch and short lead times.
  • Early 1980’s – Motorola develops Six Sigma program to improve quality and catch up with increased quality and lower costs from Japanese competitors.
  • Mid-1980’s – Just-in-time and kaizen methods arrive in the US at Jake Brake with help from Shingijutsu (former Toyota consultants)
  • Early 1990’s – Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) methods brought standardized work flows and continuous flow into office and business services.

For more details about manufacturing efficiency improvements over the years, check out the article Manufacturing history from the year you were born

Here is a video from Shmula about the history of Lean and Six Sigma

Hope you enjoy, and let us know what you’d like to see included in this website. Search below for popular terms, definitions and influential people.


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