Through this, the owner of Ford Motors Corporation was able to increase production levels and to reduce costs. "Even then when the lean manufacturing concept was years away, Ford had a focus on reducing time and material waste, increasing quality, and lowering cycle times, in order to achieve a lower cost vehicle which was reflected in the price reduction of the model T. year on year. This focus allowed him to reduce costs, even though he payed his workers well, and provide a great value product to the customer" (Lean Manufacture Website, 2009).
The editors at the Lean Manufacturing Guide online implement an approach similar to the editors at the Lean Manufacture Website. From their standpoint, lean manufacturing is an organizational effort by which waste is being reduced with the purpose of creating more value to the final product. In their own words, lean manufacturing is a "systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste through continuous improvement by flowing the product at the demand of the customer" (Lean Manufacturing Guide).
Dennis P. Hobbs (2004) takes a different approach to lean manufacturing and argues that the concept is not a new one. In fact, he states that nothing in manufacturing is new. Nevertheless however, despite the fact that the concepts are not new, their implementations are growing to be more and more sophisticated and efficient. Lean manufacturing has for years been misunderstood, wrongly implemented or even overlooked in efforts to increase organizational performances. Nevertheless, it has always strived to improve the production systems by creating high quality products, delivered in the shortest possible times and with a limited resource consumption.
Hobbs (2004) continues his academic effort by revealing the history of lean manufacturing. As the Industrial Revolution commenced in the 1860s decade, a major challenge encountered by the business community was that of managing the machines which generated large volumes of output, output which far outpaced that of the humans. Still, one of the greatest challenges was that of correlating the mechanized work with the manual labor as several functions remained dependent on manual labor. By the middle of the 1880s decade, Frederick Winslow Taylor commenced to publish a series of studies in support of production improvements. The main point he made in his studies was that of breaking down the overall tasks into smaller, individual tasks. This decision would allow a better supervision of the processes and even the elimination of the unnecessary or redundant stages in the production effort. Another noteworthy element in Taylor's work is that of the emphasis he placed on the individual motivation the staff members had in completing their tasks. Up until that point, most emphasis was placed on the work, but Taylor assigned equal importance to the work and the motivation.
The first time these ideas were given true credit was with the opening of the Ford plants which produced automobiles on assembly lines. The process represented the move from individual production of items to mass production of units. As the ideas were also implemented by other firms, they resulted in the creation of scale economies as well as economies of scope. As competition increased, economic agents were virtually forced to improve their manufacturing systems in order to make them more efficient and able to generate high quality products, to be sold at competitive prices.
Another noteworthy element in Ford's efforts was the introduction of standardization, which also improved organizational processes by increasing their efficiency, and, in addition, reduced unit costs. At this stage, standardization could only be achieved through the integration of technological innovations which ensured complete interchangeability of parts. Aside form evolving manufacturing processes, this point also represents a major step in the support of technological developments.
After these evolutions, the business community focused on other organizational elements, such as marketing, and the emphasis on manufacturing decreased. In terms of production, the challenge was constituted by product variety and diversity and this constituted a major problem especially for the owners of scale economies. From the combination of new demands and expectations, new technologies and intensified competition, resulted the computer assisted manufacturing processes. During the 1980s decade, major shifts had occurred not only in manufacturing processes, but also in global manufacturing trends. "Into the 1980s, many product markets in the United States and Europe started to come under pressure from foreign manufacturers. Products were being brought to market with higher quality and lower price. The days of planned obsolescence were over. Consumers came to expect higher quality and lower prices as a requisite for purchase. Western manufacturers began to lose market share. Some manufacturers faded away while others began to look diligently for better ways to compete. Many abandoned the old batch manufacturing models in favor of the more responsive method of Lean manufacturing in pursuit of the goals of faster response, fewer inventories, higher quality and reduced costs" (Hobbs, 2004).
Resource allocation applications became the focal point and these remain vital through today. Actions and techniques of better resource allocation improved through time and gained more and more popularity among economic agents. Today's entrepreneurs still carry the battle between efficient batch production through economy of scale and optimization and product diversity.
The research methodology used in finding answers to the posed questions was that of the onion ring. The analogy to the vegetable is given by the layered construction of the two elements. Like the vegetable, the research methodology is composed from a series of layers and in order to get to the next layer, it is necessary to peel -- or complete -- the current one.
Mark Saunders, Philip Lewis and Adrian Thornhill (2006) identify six distinctive layers of the research onion as follows:
a) Research philosophies
b) Approach to research
c) The research strategies
d) The research choices
e) The time horizons, and f) The research techniques and procedures
The structure of the research onion is best revealed in the diagram below:
a) Research philosophies
The research philosophies are generally divided into two large categories -- positivist philosophies and phenomenological philosophies. The positivist philosophies assess the topic under analysis through objective lenses and without the direct involvement of the researcher. More specifically, they focus on all the components of the problem in consideration and they strive to identify relations and connections among them. The final scope is that of constructing a relevant and studied result to explain the mechanisms behind the assessed phenomenon.
The phenomenological approaches on the other hand integrate the elements of subjectivity. While the researchers themselves do not interfere with the study and its findings, their philosophies state that the very phenomena they study are too complex to be explained through a generalized theory (Oriesek, 2004). From the standpoint of the phenomenological research philosophy then, the components of the topic would too complex and too different from the economic, political, social and otherwise standpoints for a clear answer to be offered.
The interpretativism philosophy for instance leaves room for the researcher to interpret the study findings through his own personal experiences, introducing as such the elements of bias and generating objectivity loses. The radical humanist research approach then places the human individual at the core of the study and states that the element under research is directly influenced by the decisions of the individuals, as well as by the mechanisms through which the individuals interact and construct relationships within the society. The functionalist philosophy strives to identify the working mechanisms behind the components of the topic and to explain them in a rigid and logic manner. It however focuses on limited elements and interrelationships.
The phenomenological approaches are useful in the context of niche studies, whereas the positivist philosophy is more useful in the case of broader research topics. The decision of which philosophy to adopt however depends on the researcher and no one can state whether one philosophy is better than the other. The selection of the philosophy -- as well as the selection of the future research elements -- is subjected directly to the desires of the researcher as well as to the characteristics of the research endeavor. In the case of the current study, the research is constructed on the combination of the two philosophies. Their combination maximizes the benefits of the two while reducing their limitations. More specifically, the study relies on factual and empirical data to construct findings, but in its process, it also considers the importance of the human component.
b) Approach to research
There are two types of research approaches -- deductive approach and inductive approach. The deductive approach commences at a given theory and strives to identify elements that test the respective hypothesis in order to prove or disprove it. The inductive approach on the other hand commences at the phenomenon and analyses it in order to state a thesis. Due to the nature of the current research endeavor, the selected approach is the inductive approach, which relies on the collection of qualitative information. "Researchers adopting an inductive approach often…