The concept of lean production originated with the Toyota Production System (TPS), a system that allowed Toyota to remain profitable amid economic problems and strong competition. The primary goal of the TPS is profit through increased productivity, and it achieves this by identifying and eliminating waste in the manufacturing process through improvement activities. The TPS is not synonymous with lean, however it is where most of the principles and ideas of lean production are derived, and it is these principles and ideas that make lean production so effective and universally applicable.
Lean production (or lean manufacture) uses a range of techniques including just-in-time inventory systems and continuous improvement to identify and reduce waste in the manufacturing process. There was the perception that lean manufacturing is to some degree an ‘automotive idea’ and difficult to transfer to other sectors, especially when there are major differences between them. Yet lean principles have been widely implemented since the 1990s, in a wide variety of industries, and countless companies have experienced excellent outcome. Lean manufacture is a viable process not only within the automotive industry, but also in practically every industry, including the initially reluctant aerospace industry.
This thesis established the relevance and applicability of lean production to the aerospace industry. The aerospace industry includes both military and commercial sectors, and sectors that specialize in either original equipment manufacture or rework. This thesis is concerned primarily with the commercial aircraft industry, which comprises of manufacturers of both large jet transports and smaller commercial aircraft (known as general-aviation aircraft).
The aircraft industry has some unique characteristics. The products (aircraft) are very technically complex, and must meet very high quality and safety standards. Aircraft require an extensive pre-development phase, and thus the product cycle of aircraft is measured in decades, not years. Collaboration between various partners, often in different countries, as well as an extensive supplier base, are also characteristic of the industry. Determining the best selection of concepts and technologies that should be employed is a major challenge in the aerospace industry, and several drivers over the last 10 years have made lean production increasingly attractive to aerospace companies.