The adoption of "lean" automobile manufacturing concepts developed by Toyota has been advocated as a means to achieve large improvements in the performance of various other industries, including shipbuilding. The basic goal of lean production is cost reduction via elimination of unnecessary operations, waiting times, and inventories. This goal is self-evidently applicable to any business environment. However, there are specific mechanisms associated with lean production, and their applicability to shipbuilding is not as clear. Has lean production been a significant influence in Japanese shipbuilding? Are Japanese shipbuilders "lean producers"? And is the lean production automobile model the appropriate approach to shipbuilding, or is some other package of best practices more applicable? We approach these questions in two ways. First, we consider the relation of lean principles to production processes in the Japanese shipbuilding industry. Then we describe two recent cases of process improvement in a Japanese shipyard and we discuss the extent to which these reflect lean principles. We propose that if lean production is considered as a general philosophy or set of goals, then the Japanese shipbuilding industry would likely rank ahead of Toyota in terms of achievement. On the other hand, considering the specifically "lean" mechanisms derived from the automobile industry experience, it appears that not all have been applicable to Japanese shipyards.

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