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The Machine That Changed the World
The Story of Lean Production: Toyota’s Secret Weapon in the Global Car Wars That Is Now Revolutionizing World Industry
- Read in 15 minutes
- Audio & text available
- Contains 9 key ideas
The Machine That Changed the World (1990) reveals the secret that propelled Japanese car manufacturer Toyota to the forefront of the global automobile industry, a process called lean production. These blinks give you an inside look at the industry’s early history and show how Toyota’s innovative process allowed the company to dominate the market.
Key idea 1 of 9
From the “horseless carriage” to the modern assembly line, the automobile industry has evolved.
The automobile industry has grown tremendously since the early days of the “horseless carriage,” first patented by Karl Benz in 1886.
There’s good reason the automobile industry is often called the “industry of industries.” In 2014 alone, some 90 million cars and commercial vehicles were produced. The automobile industry as a whole represents the world’s largest manufacturing activity. Let’s look at how this came to be.
In its early days, the auto industry was defined by craft production, meaning that highly skilled engineers and manufacturers tailored each individual car to a customer’s taste. This was slow and expensive, thus few people could afford cars – and only some 1,000 vehicles were produced yearly.
Only luxury cars are produced via craft production today. In general, the industry has moved to mass production. Inspired by Henry Ford, this change came about at the end of the twentieth century.
Henry Ford simply sought to produce more cars in less time. He realized he could achieve this by designing cars with the same, interchangeable parts and producing the parts separately, instead of working on a whole car at once.
The development of the assembly line further accelerated the manufacturing process. An early assembly line was a moving belt with workers stationed at different spots along it; each worker performed one or two simple tasks, over and over again. These basic tasks didn’t require highly specialized skills, and in fact, many assembly-line workers were immigrants who spoke little English.
The automatization of the production process meant that cars were no longer customized (or were customized very little), but instead offered a great advantage: any person could drive or even repair them, just by following a standard 150-page manual!