For a number of reasons, the heralded Toyota Production System – designed for a low-variety, high-volume shop – does not work equally well for a high-variety, low-volume operation, i.e. a job shop. Implementing a JobshopLean program in a smaller shop can improve performance significantly.

Lean manufacturing is “a manufacturing philosophy that shortens the customer wait time by eliminating waste between the receipt of a customer order and the shipment of that order to the customer.” Any time an order is delayed, the cost of one or more of the Seven Types of Waste is added to the cost and time for producing the order, thereby preventing on-time delivery to the customer and reducing the profits earned by the supplier. The Seven Types of Waste are:
  • Overproduction
  • Performance of non-standardized work
  • Queue time
  • Transportation (or material handling) time
  • Inventory (raw material, WIP and finished goods)
  • Unnecessary motions and travel
  • Defective products and underutilized (workforce) skills
Standard lean-manufacturing strategies, such as manufacturing cells, setup reduction, process standardization, visual workplace design and pull scheduling, that are ideal for a large OEM like Toyota are not ideally suited for custom forge shops. The key reason is that custom forge shops that supply customers such as the Defense Logistics Agency and the Department of Defense operate more like job shops. That is, their business model of high product variety and low volumes (HVLV) is unlike the business model of the OEMs and their top-tier suppliers, which operate with low product variety and high volumes (LVHV). This is where JobshopLean (JSLEAN) has proven to be better suited to the small and medium-sized HVLV forging companies.

This article was inspired by a question asked of the entire membership of the JSLEAN online chat group I moderate. The question I had posted was, “Where should a job-shop owner start his or her Lean Journey?”

Not surprisingly, some great answers to that question were posted on the JSLEAN online chat group, which can be accessed at If you join the group, in addition to the discussion threads, you can also visit the files section to access and download a variety of useful documents.

If you are considering implementing a JSLEAN program in your facility, here is how a job shop, or high-variety, low-volume (HVLV) small-to-medium-sized manufacturer, ought to get started.

An example of a JobshopLean approach to plant efficiency would be to “process map” the physical path of a die, stored on a rack like this one, and minimize the path length through the shop as it cycles in and out of production.


Do not believe that the Toyota Production System (TPS), which was designed for LVHV product assembly, is fully capable of addressing the complexity of any HVLV component-manufacturing job shop. It is not, and it never will be.

What works for Toyota will not necessarily work for a typical job shop’s business environment, operating conditions, labor pool and limited (if any) personnel training budgets. TPS was never designed to deal with short product-run situations such as different products following a variety of manufacturing flow routes, due-date changes, vendors refusing to provide stable delivery schedules, short runs forcing numerous setup changes, etc.

Consequently, the first recommendation is to have an open mind and learn about ideas and methods that extend beyond anything that fits under the “ToyotaLean” umbrella. Surely, the philosophy and principles of the TPS can benefit a job shop. The same cannot be claimed about the specific methods and tools of TPS, however, as many of them are best suited for LVHV product assembly.

Recognizing that the views presented here are not agreed to by everyone, I encourage those who disagree to voice their opinions. It’s just that there are some who mistakenly believe that the TPS is the best approach to the design and operation of all manufacturing and service operations. I do not believe this to be true.

From storage, a die goes to the die-prep room before it is installed for service.


Learning the basics about Lean will surely benefit your operations. Before implementing Lean in your shops, I recommend you read and study the following books:
  • Toyota Production System: Beyond Large Scale Production (Taiichi Ohno, 1988, ISBN 0915299143)
  • Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in your Corporation (James Womack & Daniel Jones, 2003, ISBN 0743249275)
  • The Toyota Way Fieldbook: A Practical Guide for Implementing Toyota’s 4P’s (Jeffrey Liker & David Meier, 2006, ISBN 0071448934)
Endeavor also to learn the basics about the Theory of Constraints (TOC) because it will further benefit your operations to integrate TOC with Lean. Read Avraham Goldratt’sThe Goalbecause it presents ideas and methods most relevant to a job shop’s operating conditions. Despite the useful information in these books, they hardly provide the specific “how to” details necessary to implement effective HVLV manufacturing.

The storage of some chemicals behind an air compressor created an inefficiency.


If you purchase a copy ofThe Lean Enterprise Memory Joggerby Richard MacInnes, you will have a basic reference work that will teach you the Lean Toolkit (Value-Stream Mapping, Visual Management, Error Proofing, Quick Changeover, Standard Operations, One-Piece Flow, Kanban/Pull Scheduling, Total Productive Maintenance and Lean Metrics). These tools, valuable as they are, should still be viewed with caution since they may not all be applicable to the job shop, which is most unlike an assembly line. Still, similar tools will be absolutely necessary to design and operate a flexible and lean job shop.

For example, a job-shop owner will realize savings and business growth if he/she provides a clean and safe workplace that allows employees to become more productive. Without a doubt, some of the best practices pioneered by Toyota, such as 6S (5S + Safety), quality at source, total productive maintenance, setup reduction, employee involvement and empowerment, etc., are universally applicable and beneficial to any manufacturing or service system.

For managing and running a job shop, I would not hesitate to recommend and endorse everything that the Toyota Production System has to offer on the “soft side,” such as culture change, workforce and leadership development, strategic planning, sustaining change, teamwork, etc. You will probably use Value-Stream Mapping (VSM) to identify opportunities to eliminate waste and achieve flow production in your facility.

Before the implementation of the JobshopLean program, tool storage was less than optimal.


Lean 101 refers to the basics of process mapping – analysis and improvement – driven by the objective of waste elimination to increase the pace at which any order flows through your facility. It is an extremely effective first step for any job shop.

It is important that you develop an in-house video to teach your management and employees the basics of Lean Thinking using “picture evidence” of the costs and flow delays associated with the various types of waste. You thereby create a valuable educational resource that relates directly to your operation. The eye-opening education provided by this video will help to quickly identify and implement high-impact, low-cost improvement projects.

There are some videos that should be considered required viewing by everyone in your company. Two of these are available from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers ( Your Value Stream and Customer-Focused Manufacturing.The first will introduce you to VSM, which is a simple, yet powerful, manual and visual method for analysis and improvement of processes and/or systems. The second will introduce you to what is typically the end result of a VSM event in a manufacturing facility, i.e. the design and implementation of a manufacturing or assembly cell.

The Owner/President Must Lead by Example
Some experts would advise top management to read books or attend training seminars on executive leadership, culture change and strategic planning before they engage with their employees and undertake their “lean journey.” While almost all professional organizations and consulting houses offer these seminars, I recommend the offerings from two organizations that are closest to the subject and to Toyota – the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) ( and the Center for Manufacturing at the University of Kentucky (

Surely there are numerous sources to consult, but managers are cautioned to not go overboard listening to all the gurus on ToyotaLean. The HVLV manufacturer may well grapple with the same problems that a world-beating OEM like Toyota has conquered. Unlike Toyota, however, the small manufacturer lacks the budget, personnel and operational simplicity of the typical high-volume assembly factory.

Get started by doing the Lean 101 event discussed earlier. A challenge that any job-shop owner/president will surely face is how to keep the momentum going after the initial hoopla of the kick-off event or consultant-led initiative. Commitment of the employees at all levels of the company is essential, but it is often an uphill task because they, and the managers who monitor and measure their performance, are stuck in “the old ways.” Here, my advice is to create a project notice board and locate it in a highly visible area of the shop floor. Post progress milestones and key results from this pilot project on that board. On a regular basis, feature individuals on this board whose projects had remarkable results. Demonstrate to your employees that you genuinely intend to make lean thinking the DNA of your company.

Internalize and Practice Lean Thinking Daily
One of the goals of starting the JobshopLean process is to get everyone in the organization to internalize and practice lean thinking daily. Managers may wish to readToyota Talent: Developing Your People the Toyota Wayby Jeffrey Liker & David Meier. Also, visit the website of The TWI (Training Within Industry) Institute ( The TWI workforce training program was developed by U.S. manufacturers and taught to Toyota soon after World War II. Toyota mastered it and then honed it to perfection in their Toyota Production System. Toyota is not an ordinary company because every employee from the president down to the line operator comes to work thinking about how they can make improvements in their current work processes.


Once you’ve become familiar with Toyota’s workforce development program, what should you do next? There is no universal answer to this question, but one good course of action would be to hire an industrial engineer (IE) from an accredited program at a university (The Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison offer good programs) where the curriculum teaches the nuts and bolts of Lean and Six Sigma. If you’re balking at the idea of hiring a full-time IE, you may wish to test the waters by hiring an IE intern who is well versed in the science that powers Lean, Six Sigma and TOC to work for you for three to six months.

This intern could do a variety of tasks, ranging from supporting kaizen events to producing training materials, developing spreadsheets for data analysis, etc. Support this person but challenge him/her to produce the following result – every year he/she must save you or help the company to grab more business that has a total value equal to his/her salary with benefits. Put aside a budget for him/her to attend annual conferences and cutting-edge workshops and to visit with other companies that have successfully implemented Lean in their high-mix, low-volume operations. Benchmarking is not something to be ashamed about.

Having hired this IE, nurture him/her to become your company’s full-time lean champion who will support your efforts to adopt and sustain changes inspired by Lean Six Sigma. Put this person in charge of a Lean Resource Office and stock it with reference resources your employees can utilize. As much as possible, enhance this resource with materials developed from the projects and implementations that your own employees do. Nothing breeds a thirst for success more than seeing one’s own success being recognized by one’s supervisor and peers.


Hopefully, some of the suggestions and recommendations included here will prove useful. If not, your best advisers would be the members of the teams that we worked with in 2007. These include PR Machine Works, Inc. (Mansfield, Ohio), Bula Forge & Machine Inc. (Cleveland, Ohio) and Canton Drop Forge (Canton, Ohio). Each of these companies embarked on their Lean Journey by undertaking a pilot JobshopLean project. Now their programs are moving along with no further help from our team at OSU.

Dr. Sharukh A. Irani is an associate professor at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached at (614) 688-4685 or

All photos are courtesy of Trinity Forge, Mansfield, Texas. They illustrate conditions prior to Trinity’s JobshopLean experience.