Since the mid-1980s UK industry has been striving towards the Holy Grail of lean manufacturing, based on concepts such as reducing inventory, just-in-time delivery and cell manufacture.
Now it appears lean manufacturing is set to be eclipsed by a new concept from the US: agile manufacturing, based on speed and flexibility of response to unexpected market changes.
Some of the characteristics are similar, but others – such as relentlessly driving down inventory – may actually inhibit an agile response. For managers who have struggled to embrace lean production, the idea that you can have too much of it will come as something of a shock.
And it highlights one of the difficulties of the modern manufacturing manager: not only is it necessary to distinguish management fads from useful techniques, even the most apparently rigorous philosophy can quickly become obsolete, and it is dangerous to become too focused on one overriding idea.