The experience curve has been used as the model of learning within manufacturing for nearly a century, and has been used as a basis for predicting future performance and for setting performance targets. First, a summary of the experience curve and its underlying premises is given Then deficiencies in experience-based model of learning are presented. The case is made that an organization that attempts to compete on the basis of incremental improvements on past experience, as represented by past competence and number of units produced, will not be able to compete with the most competent competitors that are using market-driven performance targets and conscious learning and problem-solving methods to drive innovation. Two actual examples of learning outside the paradigm of the experience curve are discussed. One method of measuring present learning rates for individual processes is presented. It is concluded that U.S. shipbuilders need to look outside the experience-based model of learning, and the associated idea of series production of standard ships, toward conscious methods of learning and problem solving in order to become competitive in the commercial shipbuilding market.

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