Finished Toyota Production System by Taiichi Ohno. Slightly different type of cult book: Ohno was the Toyota manager who invented just-in-time production: the book describes how it works and how he introduced it.
The book is very short, only 176 pages including appendices, as befits a book about a minimalist system of eliminating the unnecessary. At £27.54 for the hardback it doesn't exemplify good value though.
Just-in-time production considers most inventory holding to be waste. It costs floor space, warehouse rent, time spent inventorying, and suggests spare capacity in whatever process produced this inventory. Ohno combated this by reversing the usual process. At each stage in the factory, the later stage submits a work order (a kanban worksheet enclosed in clear plastic) to the earlier stage, which makes only the quantity requested.
This reduces cost and waste, and also makes it possible to produce a large number of different items. It involves less central planning than traditional Ford-ist "large scale production": the decisions are taken at a lower level. Was interested to see that they alternate production at the lowest level, so the same line might make a Corolla and a Celica alternately all day.
This means the workers have to be multiskilled: the same worker might move from a lathe to a drill to a die-punch machine throughout the day. Interestingly, Ohno claims concern about workers being alienated from their labour, and suggests positioning workers so they are not isolated but can form meaningful teams. However, he is resolute that the number of workers per job should always and continuously be reduced to the minimum, and is vague about what happens to the Reduced.
Also interesting: it was only in the economic crisis of the late Seventies that the flexibility of the system led to it being adopted outside Toyota: it wasn't a product of a boom.
Ohno differentiates the Toyota Production System itself from kanban, the system of worksheets. The Toyota Production System is made up of kanban, just-in-time production, zero-defects (where a line is stopped by anyone if there's a problem) and autonomation where machines automatically stop if there's a risk of a problem.
One good idea seems to be the Five Whys. Whenever something goes wrong you should ask Why five times, tracing each cause back to a previous cause, to make sure your solution addresses the root of the problem.
The translated prose is simple and occasionally awkward, not sure how it compares to the original Japanese. Has mostly Japanese metaphors: I liked the idea of Ninjutsu Management, silently and near-magically making constant improvements.
Overall, a useful book if you run a manufacturing plant; and quite interesting if you don't but are interested in how the modern world makes stuff.
What I'm Reading 2
Finished Econned by Yves Smith, of the Naked Capitalism blog. Excellent, detailed book on both the specific origin of the financial crisis, and general problems with economic policy, financial regulation and the profession of economics. It's a couple of years old, so doesn't have anything on the Eurozone crisis or the failed recovery, and is also pretty focused on the US.
Despite that, and despite the plethora of other books on the origins of the crisis, the book is highly worthwhile. Smith is a financial insider with a good knowledge of economics. She's very good on explaining how economic models fail to reflect reality; and how weak, disinterested managers and ideological regulators had little grasp of what was going on.
This book is more thorough and better thought out than Robert Peston's "Who Runs Britain: The Economic Mess We're In", or Vince Cable's "The Storm", and more specific than Taleb's "Black Swan" and "Fooled by Randomness" and better than "The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crash of 2008 and What It Means" by George Soros.
Overall, presents a disturbing picture of how the formerly-useful banking sector has essentially been looted by profiteers, abetted by ideological zealots, who then raided the public purse for bailouts.
Sadly the more pessimistic worries of the book seem to have come true. Smith warned that propping up failed banks with bailouts and easing of regulators, has a history of making banking crises worse. It's better to let them fail and use the public purse to shelter the public from the consequences.
What we seem to be left with today is a zombie financial sector, incapable of its supposed role of lending and servicing the real private sector economy, endlessly supported and pandered to by the state. In turn, the private sector can't pull us out of recession since it's starved of investment capital and lending by the zombies. The state can't pull us out because all its resources have gone to propping up the zombies. So we seem to be stuck in a recession without a clear end.
Back at home now after spending the holiays with the parents. Back to work tomorrow, will probably be busy from the start. Girl B still doesn't get back for a while, won't see her till the 9th.
Feels good to have all my stuff around: gave myself a haircut and had a dumb-bell workout, feeling better now.
Don't think I've put on that much weight for once, though I'll need to weigh myself a couple of times at my normal time (first thing in the morning) to be sure. Weighed myself when I got back and it claimed I was 11st6, same as my last measurement on 2nd December, but I think that must be dehydration at work. I think I ate enough to gain a couple of pounds at least, but I might have lost a couple of pounds over December and put them on again.
Pics. Wooden lizard.
Sci/Tech. Hipster programmers.
Politics. Polls basically unchanged throughout 2011.
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