Are Brazilians just naturally lean? Is it something in their genes?
I started to ponder that after flying, for the fourth time in the past seven days, on an Embraer EMB120 Brasilia, flown by Skywest for United. To get from my home airport of San Luis Obispo to anywhere, you first have to fly one of those props to either LA or San Francisco.
A little light research into Embraer brings forth an image of a rather interesting company. Founded by the Brazilian government in 1969 and privatized in 1994, the company now employs over 20,000 people and is one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world. They manufacture 18 types of aircraft, including a new 120-seat commercial jet that has secured orders from some major airlines.
They are at least making an attempt at being lean. A search on the subject yields a long list of consulting companies that claim Embraer as a client, and executives from the company have been speakers at several lean and six sigma conferences. Much of their effort appears to be in the lean supply chain arena, which is perhaps to be expected as the have followed Boeing and others to China, although the vast majority of their Chinese production is destined for use in China. Are they really lean or just looking lean? I don’t know yet.
Lean actually has considerable history in Brazil. Jon Miller at Gemba Panta Rei had a great story last year on Taiichi Ohno’s visit to Toyota do Brasil. The Brazilian affiliate had figured out how to do quick changeover on a forging operation and via Ohno taught the rest of Toyota. There were several reasons for this, first and foremost being that Toyota do Brasil was "the smallest automobile company in the world" according to Ohno, producing just three cars per day. As a result they had only one forging press that had to make over 60 different forges. The operation was brought inside because no external supplier would tackle such a low volume high mix requirement.
Taiichi Ohno gives a lot of credit to Toyota do Brasil as being a good model plant or test case for implementing high mix low volume Toyota Production System. At Toyota in Japan the volumes were so high that many lines were dedicated and practically no changeovers were done. When Ohno says “Toyota do Brasil may be doing TPS better than any other Toyota factory” he seems to be saying that true TPS is high mix, low volume and when you have high volumes and you do not need to implement SMED, you are not really doing TPS.
That should throw the "lean and TPS can’t work in high mix low volume" types at Job Shop Lean into a tizzy. I would even bet that Toyota do Brasil did it without complex software solutions. But we’ve mentioned this before: as mix becomes greater, the impact and importance of one piece flow and minimized inventories also becomes greater.
Brazilians love to minimize wherever possible. We all know and love the brazilian thong bikini. The bare minimum, and only what’s required… usually. And of course there’s the brazilian wax. If it’s not necessary, remove it. I’ll leave a discussion of value from the perception of the customer up to your imagination.
I just hope, for my own safety, that those engineers at Embraer don’t take the Brazilian penchant for minimalization too far.