The emergence of the TPS rests on the need for competitive improvement that the Japanese auto industry experienced after World War II. Womack notes that—

“This system in essence shifted the focus of the manufacturing engineer from individual machines and their utilization, to the flow of the product through the total process. Toyota concluded that by right-sizing machines for the actual volume needed, introducing self-monitoring machines to ensure quality, lining the machines up in process sequence, pioneering quick setups so each machine could make small volumes of many part numbers, and having each process step notify the previous step of its current needs for materials, it would be possible to obtain low cost, high variety, high quality, and very rapid throughput times to respond to changing customer desires. Also, information management could be made much simpler and more accurate.”3

The TPS was described in detail in Womack et al. 1990,4 and again in Womack et al. 1996.5 Variations on and components of the TPS approach now underpin many of the lean modalities in use at MEP centers, discussed below.


Lean manufacturing encompasses a wide range of interrelated improvements in firm processes. Many of these, perhaps most, are found on or near the factory floor itself. However, other aspects include improvements in marketing, in hiring, and in intrafirm communication. This section provides an overview of some of the different kinds of lean manufacturing implemented with the help of MEP centers.

A good description of the multiple modalities that can be applied has been provided by TechHelp, the Idaho Manufacturing Extension Center, which uses the metaphor of multiple building blocks to capture the varied approaches that could be employed (see Figure 3-1).6


3Lean Enterprise Institute, “A Brief History of Lean,”
<>. Accessed July 1, 2013.

4James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos, The Machine that Changed the World, op. cit.

5James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos, Lean Thinking, New York: Simon and Schuster.

6The House of Lean is a commonly used diagram. See David L. Goetsch and Stanley Davis, Quality Management for Organizational Excellence, 7th Edition, New York: Prentice Hall, 2012. For a description of the terms displayed in the diagram, see

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